Why it matters
SDG 4 seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. While there have been improvements to the number of children accessing education on a global scale, more than 770 million adults – two-thirds of whom are women – are illiterate. In Sub-Saharan Africa, less than half of the primary and lower secondary schools had access to electricity, internet, computers and basic handwashing facilities in 2019.
The industry contribution
Mobile technology contributes to SDG 4 by allowing students, teachers and employees to learn/teach from any location and on the move. Educational content, as well as educational administration and management, are increasingly being made available over mobile networks to tablets, smartphones and feature phones. SDG 4 is the most improved SDG since 2015 in terms of industry impact. Over 2 billion mobile users (40% of mobile subscribers) access educational services on their mobile phones, representing an increase of more than 1 billion since 2015. Additionally, 30% of mobile subscribers access government services on their mobile phones, equal to 1.5 billion (an increase of 958 million users since 2015).
Digital content and mobile solutions enable access to education
Target 4.1: By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
Mobile technology can help education through the dissemination of online content and support. It can also promote ICT in education and bridge the digital divide through e-learning. Further, mobile technologies can assist professionals by enabling the use of new digital tools to improve their teaching outcomes. The benefits of e-learning are amplified during crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused 90% of students to have at some point been kept out of school.
Communication platforms and video conferencing applications (e.g. Whatsapp, Microsoft Teams and Skype) enable real-time learning, and their usage has been further accelerated by the outbreak of COVID-19. In Bhutan, some schools are using mobile applications such as WeChat and Whatsapp in a two-way communication method: they assign students with homework and request an image of the final work to be shared with them for assessment. In Bulgaria, the launch of an e-learning platform in March 2020 has connected over 700,000 students to 65,000 teachers through videos and webinars. Almost 90% of students have enrolled and they receive six hours of distance learning per day.
Many mobile operators are also enabling access to digital content during the COVID-19 pandemic by zero-rating services, lifting data caps, providing access to free content, and distributing devices to teachers and learners. In Indonesia, operators are working with the Ministry of Education to provide free internet data for online educational platforms. In the US, Verizon has supported teachers and students by tripling its monthly data allowance for Verizon Innovative Learning schools (a programme that provides free devices and internet access to under-resourced students), while AT&T created a Distance Learning and Family Connections Fund to support at-home learning. Similarly, Vodafone UK is supporting education by providing online e-learning courses from a range of education services for free to customers and employees.
However, distance-learning in many developing countries is a constant need and not driven solely by times of crisis. The following examples highlight the use of SMS-based technology to disseminate learning materials. In South Africa, a mobile novel series (which has been read over 34,000 times) uses basic mobile phones to allow users to discuss story plots, vote in polls, leave comments and partake in writing competitions. In Nigeria, caregivers of younger children access teaching materials through SMS, audio and video direct to their phones. Further, educational programmes used by professionals in schools are integrated on tablets to help teachers with instructional guides and materials.
Côte d’Ivoire: enabling education through SMS-based content
Only 63% of children in Côte d’Ivoire complete primary school, compared to around 73% in Africa overall. Those who do complete primary school have lower literacy and math skills than students in other Francophone African countries, with an average math score of 476 in Côte d’Ivoire compared to 594 in Burundi, for example. These gaps widen in secondary school, especially among girls and children in rural areas and poor families.
Eneza Education (iEduk) offers a subscription service for educational content to children in primary and secondary schools in Kenya, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire. Developed in-house and aligned with the national curriculum, the service allows students to access lessons and assessments on any mobile phone via SMS or USSD with a daily, weekly or monthly subscription. In June 2018, Eneza Education signed a contract with Orange to open its SMS and billing APIs to allow iEduk users to access and pay for content using prepaid mobile phone credit. After launching its service in September 2018, Eneza Education received a grant from the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund in November 2018 to expand the solution in Côte d’Ivoire through improvements to platform quality, raising awareness through a rewards system, content creation and an IVR channel. Later, Eneza also integrated MTN Côte d’Ivoire payments for iEduk for MTN subscribers and partnered with MOOV because of the demand for learning resources in Cote d’Ivoire. It also expanded its services to Kenya and Ghana.
By the end of March 2020, Eneza had increased the number of users on its platform to 27,545. The startup has successfully integrated literary education with IVR and improved the distance learning service via SMS. The company reports over 6 million lifetime learners, more than 3 million questions asked through its ask-a-teacher service and a 23% improvement in academic performance after learning through its platform for nine months. In collaboration with Safaricom, the company also offered revision lessons and papers for free during April and May 2020.
Enabling affordable technical and higher education
Target 4.3: By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.
Mobile education has proved to be effective in addressing basic literacy and numeracy skills. However, higher education and vocational training, access to scholarships and university sponsorship are also important to help young people reach their full potential, improve their employability and further advance their socioeconomic levels.
In South Africa, a blended approach of using mobile learning together with classroom training provided entrepreneurship training to 230 youths, who gained a set of new skills relevant for starting a business. The mobile-enabled course facilitated 32 new business concepts, of which 5% turned into new businesses at the end of the course. In Africa, Asia and the Middle East, nearly 6 million users have learned new skills enabled by the Funzi platform, whose courses have a nearly 50-50 gender ratio.
Palestine: driving equal access to vocational and tertiary education
The Occupied Palestinian Territories have a high youth population: 70% of the population is between 15 and 29 years old. With extremely limited options, many of Gaza’s youth have never left the territory due to the longstanding military blockade of the Gaza Strip. This also meant that in 2017, the Gaza Strip had the highest unemployment rate in the world.
Paltel Telecommunications group and local mobile operator Jawwal launched Code For Palestine in 2015, offering young people from the age of eight all the way to university level a host of courses to learn coding and entrepreneurial skills based on age and experience, with an emphasis on female and underprivileged students.
All of the 2017’s Code + Design Bootcamp graduates received local and international jobs because of their participation in the scheme. A 15-year-old participant also became the youngest Palestinian to ever complete a degree.
Maximising impact by 2030
Enablers that could help maximise the mobile industry’s impact on SDG 4 include the following:
- Enhancing digital literacy of professionals and caregivers.
- Providing more cost-effective and scalable technology to drive the use of interactive, rather than one-way, learning.
- Providing certainty of programme continuity and sustainability of services when an initiative or donor funding ends.
- Monitoring and evaluating capacities to screen distance-learning processes, track access and engagement, and assess outcomes to enable sustainability of mobile and distance learning.
- Offering incentives to combat the lack of cultural and social acceptance of using internet and digital solutions.