The role of ICT in education was given an important boost at Mobile Learning Week in Paris in December 2011 when UNESCO gathered international experts to discuss how mobile learning technologies can be used to support Education for All (EFA) goals.
Mobile Learning Week, held at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, marked a significant effort toward examining the potential educational benefits of what the UN organization refers to in a press release as “the world’s most ubiquitous communication technology”. Hosted in partnership with Nokia, the week’s program was designed to bring together international experts and senior government officials to begin developing policies for mobile learning as part of an initiative to help accomplish six EFA objectives by 2015.
Among the range of ideas proposed in Paris were teacher-training initiatives in Mexico, Pakistan, Nigeria and Senegal ; a series of working papers including regional reviews of policies in support of mobile learning; initiatives to support teachers through mobile technologies and a global community of practice.
There are, however, a number of obstacles that remain in addressing what a recent Mobile Learning Week report describes as the current “mobile learning policy vacuum”. Of the few policies that are in place, the report mentions, many are actually focused on restricting or preventing mobile learning, for example by banning the use of mobile phones in schools. “Overall there are three official responses to the emergence of mobile technologies: ignore, ban or engage. Many countries are ignoring them, some are banning, but eventually they all need to engage,” advises the MLW report. To facilitate this engagement, UNESCO sees a need to enlist the support of not just policymakers, but also private technology companies, many of which have already joined the organization in mobile learning projects around the world.
As UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova suggested in her video address at NEST in Hong Kong, the private sector is a crucial enabler in unleashing the educational benefits of Information and Communication Technologies, which all too often are dismissed as a disruptive force in the classroom. "Nowadays ICT plays a hugely important role in the educational system," says Bokova, citing UNESCO-sponsored projects in which mobile technologies have been shown to increase literacy and improve the quality of education. "The private sector brings a lot of innovation. It brings a lot of fresh, new ideas – and of course technology. And on the other side, we from the United Nations bring the intergovernmental contribution, the cooperation and the policies to put these technologies to work." And with more than five billion mobile subscribers now estimated worldwide, the educational potential of these technologies could truly be transformational. With Mobile Learning Week, UNESCO has shown a firm commitment to finding out how.