A Stepping Stone to Success

Mobile phone platform brings m-learning to Malian youth
Basic mobile phones can be used to deliver educational content.

Like other Malian youth, Mariam Coulibaly enjoys using her mobile phone to call family and friends and to listen to music. But today, she is using her phone in a different way: to practice reading and writing in her own language—Bambara.

Coulibaly is a participant in PAJE-Nièta (Support to Youth Entrepreneurs Project), which is working to provide 10,000 rural, out-of-school youth with basic education, work readiness and technical training, and livelihood activities. The program is led by EDC and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

PAJE-Nièta is pilot testing a new mobile learning (m-learning) platform for mobile phones. Called Stepping Stone, the Java-based application enables teachers and curriculum developers to create multimedia lessons for playback on basic mobile phones.

Educators using Stepping Stone can inexpensively create multimedia presentations for students in resource-lean classrooms. Students benefit from having current materials they can study in the classroom as well as on their own and with peers.

EDC’s Scott Isbrandt, the m-learning project director, leads Stepping Stone’s development and testing. “Stepping Stone will help students reinforce what they’re learning in and out of the classroom, with an emphasis on building reading and entrepreneurship skills,” he says. “We see it as a key to learning and improving livelihoods for youth entrepreneurs.”

The Stepping Stone platform lets lesson creators combine content from a library of photos or illustrations, text, and instructional audio or video to create lessons. Lessons are then loaded onto micro memory cards that are compatible with mobile phones. Basic education skill builders created with Stepping Stone include alphabetic, numeric, and phonetic sequences, as well as math drills and quizzes.

“Until now, the telephone has been used for calls and to listen to music,” says Stepping Stone Developer Abdoulaye Koureissi. “But if one can learn with a telephone, this is a plus. We know that everyone has a telephone, even if they don’t read.”

Progress on the go

Stepping Stone builds on EDC’s experience developing m-learning technologies to deliver educational content to students in developing countries, such as Mali and Rwanda, where mobile phones are used to help teachers in remote communities access current, research-based curricula.

Basic mobile phones work well for delivering m-learning in resource-lean countries such as Mali. The project chose Nokia S40 series phones for their availability and low cost. For this first phase of pilot testing, EDC distributed 3,000 of these phones, preloaded with lessons, to Mali PAJE-Nièta youth participants.

“It’s amazing to see that some of the remotest places with little to no connectivity now have access to a device that is affordable to many and can promote learning and entrepreneurship,” Isbrandt says. “It’s exciting to see the impact of increased access to critical information, and how basic education and entrepreneurship training can improve lives.”

Youth participant Mariam Coulibaly agrees. “I think the lessons on the phone are helpful, especially the lessons with letters that explain how to write with your hand in the air or on a piece of paper.”

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