UNESCO study says cell phones can help to improve literacy

"A study by the U.N. education agency says cellphones are getting more and more people to read in countries where books are rare and illiteracy is high."

"Paris-based UNESCO says 774 million people worldwide cannot read, and most people in sub-Saharan Africa don't own any books but cellphones are increasingly widespread. The report Wednesday by UNESCO says large numbers of people in such countries are reading books and stories on 'rudimentary small-screen devices.' "

"It says a third of study participants read stories to children from cellphones. It also says people who start reading on a mobile device go on to read more period, improving their overall literacy."

"The study was conducted among 4,000 people in Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Zimbabwe."

From the Detroit Free Press, April 23 freep.com/article/20140423/BUSINESS07/304230078/phone-literacy-unesco-children
The study will be found at unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002274/227436e.pdf

David J. Rosen



Thank you for sharing the UNESCO report, David.  It's interesting to hear how mobile phones are being used in other countries and what a benefit they are having.  It made me wonder how we are using mobile phones in the US.  I've created a poll to find out approximately what percentage of our adult ed students have smart phones.  You can get to the poll from this link https://community.lincs.ed.gov/poll/what-percent-adult-ed-students-your-classes-have-smart-phones.

The UNESCO report concentrated on the use of mobile phones for reading.  What are other ways we are using mobile phones with students in the US? To all the teachers in the group, are you using basic cell phones with your students?  Smart phones?

If you are using smart phones with your students, what kinds of activities are you using them for? Any of these activities?

Watching videos
Making Videos
Taking photos
Looking at photos/images
QR Code scanning
Taking quizzes/surveys
Listening to audio recordings/podcasts
Making audio recordings/podcasts
Doing research using google etc
Sending and receiving email
Taking notes

What else?



Great question and I am anxious to see the results of the poll! On my conference travels this spring, I was discussing an idea a program hopes to implement this year. They hope to provide smart phones (with a pay as you go service) as long as the student is actively participating in their program and supplementing their work with outside classes. 

After a student who has no smart phone or Internet access at home participates in class and demonstrates a commitment, they will create a learning contract. At the end of each month, if the student has reached their goals - they load the phone for another month.  The rationale is that students are more likely to be retained because they want to keep the phone. They must demonstrate progress (submitted lessons, attendance in class, ext,) in order to keep the phone. They believe that the students have so much potential with mobile learning and access to information that supplements instruction. 

Thanks Kathy for sharing this idea about smart phones for learning goals reached. It's a design I have not heard of before. I will be interested to hear how it works out.

I know that more adult education programs now are taking advantage of their students' mobile phones for learning, and I would like to see a discussion here on what teachers are asking their students to do with smart phones and feature phones in the classroom and outside. Here are some things I am aware of, and would like to hear more about from teachers and other adult education practitioners here:

  • Text messages. Reminders about classes cancelled, assignments due, word of the day or week, and English language lessons by text message. One example I learned about recently is a feature phone (or smart phone) service for English language learners in the U.S. and across the world. It's called CELL-ED,  http://www.celled.org/  Anyone here using it?
  • The built-in cell-phone camera. Some teachers, for example Susan Gaer, an ESL professor at Santa Ana College in California, have developed great student English language learning projects in which they take pictures and write about them. For beginning English students who photograph and label English vocabulary items like fruits and vegetables, to more advanced projects like "Take a picture of something in your room that has meaning for you and write about why." These get posted as student projects on Susan's web site.
  • Apps. I have put together a Scoop.it collection of smart phone apps in math, science and other areas. I have recently learned about a free, program-based app for iPhones or iPads designed for adult literacy (and ESL/ESOL) tutors. It provides a way to record and track tutor hours, access a library of videos and other resources for tutor professional development, a program events calendar, and links to the program's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram web pages. it's a great model for other programs thinking of designing an app for their tutors.
  • Formative Assessments and Polls. Smart phones (and feature phones) used in class for student responses to polls, and instant student feedback to the teacher on how students are/aren't understanding what is being presented or demonstrated
  • Flipped Learning. Smart phones (and other ways to access the Internet) for students to watch videos and take assessments before coming to class

I'll be glad to elaborate on these, and would love to hear examples from others about these and other uses of mobile phones in adult basic education.

David J. Rosen


I am always interested in how educators use phones and whether they help or hurt.  I am in the "help" camp.  One of my duties as a volunteer tutor for a nonprofit adult literacy organization is to "man" a help desk for adult students.  All of the students I meet have cell phones, but I estimate only a fourth have smart phones.  For the smartphone-toting students, we seem to use them several ways.  

Most often, we use the camera to take pictures of their cut-up-and-then-reassembled-in-a-different-order handwritten essays.  (Low-tech and high-tech meet in the middle.)  

I am also a big fan of games.  If I get to spend a couple of hours with the student, I will end our time with a video game on my laptop.  If the student likes the game, I am happy to help him/her access the game on his/her phone.  It doesn't always work, but it's wonderful when it does.