Michael Trucano in a (fairly) recent blog post touched upon the potential for SMS technology in the field of education in Pakistan. While Trucano was quick to point out that SMS technology is no substitute for schools, he successfully made the case for exploring how basic text messaging can be used to benefit people with low end mobile phones and posed important questions that need to be answered before we expand the use of SMS in schools.

Trucano highlighted the Asghar Mall College pilot project where 150 students who had their mobile phone numbers on file began participating in a daily vocabulary quiz exercise delivered by SMS. These young men from middle to lower middle class backgrounds were sent simple multiple-choice questions.  Texts were addressed to each student individually, using the equivalent of a ‘mail merge’ function. The students would reply via SMS, and then receive an automated response based on their answer.  In this response, a notation was made about whether the answer given was correct or not, and then the correct answer was incorporated into a sample sentence.

Based on the results of the pilot, the Provincial Education Department of the Government of the Punjab is showing interest in exploring these activities further. The project principals have already started thinking about expanding the scope of their activities. For example they are currently toying with the idea of sending text messages to parents to encourage further parent involvement in the student’s academics.

Another example of a project using SMS technology in the field of education is Mobilink’s project to enhance literacy in girl students through SMS. The pilot project was launched in 2009 with the help of a local NGO, Bunyad. In the pilot phase, 250 female learners received informative Urdu text messages daily, which they were required to respond. The program was implemented with the help of 10 teachers enlisted by Bunyad. According to the Mobilink site, the results have been quite positive:

It was found that at the beginning of the program 57% of the girls were graded ‘C’ and only 28% of the girls managed to score an ‘A’. However, near the end of the project the situation reversed with percentage of girls receiving a ‘C’ dropped to only 11% whereas more than 60% of the girls were awarded an ‘A’.

(Of course one cannot jump to the conclusion that the jump in grades was the result of use SMS technology alone – we need more information regarding the information that was contained in the text messages as well as other related factors e.g. teacher involvement with students before, during and after the pilot)

Trucano emphasized that vocabulary-building and grammar quizzes are just two potential applications of this sort of SMS-based interaction. This is clear from the information we have of the Mobilink project where ‘informative texts’ were being sent to the girls as opposed to quizzes.

SMS technology definitely presents some interesting opportunities for classrooms in Pakistan. But before we can advocate for use of mobile in classrooms across the board, we need to move towards addressing the questions that Trucano posed in his blog posts: how many young students have phone and how many can afford to participate in education-related activities via mobile phones?

As we begin to collect more data and the feasibility of use of SMS or mobile technology in Pakistani classrooms becomes clearer, we definitely have some exciting possibilities ahead of us. Have a look at a couple of relevant and interesting examples below to get some inspiration:

The Jokko Initiative in Senegal: Empowering Women through Mobile Technology

Mobile Phone Adult Literary Program in Niger

Although this powerpoint presentation by Creative Commons on 25 uses of mobiles in classrooms is geared towards classrooms with affluent students with smart phones, they are some interesting options available to low-end mobile user phone as well. Check it out here.

If you’ve additional insights regarding the use of mobile technology in classrooms and know of some pilot projects that we may have missed out, please let us know in your comments!