Afghan women learn literacy through mobile phones

Nov 14, 2012 by Mushtaq Mojaddidi

Afghanistan has launched a new literacy programme that enables Afghan women deprived of a basic education during decades of war to learn to read and write using a mobile phone.

The phone is called Ustad Mobile (Mobile Teacher) and provides national curriculum courses in both national languages, Dari and Pashto, as well as mathematics.

All the lessons are audio-video, with writing, pronunciation and phrases installed in Ustad Mobile phones—and they are distributed free to students.

Sat on a carpet in a small Kabul classroom with a handful of learning to read and write, 18-year-old Muzhgan Nazari said the Taliban, who banned schooling for girls during their rule, were in power when she should have started her education.

"I could not go to school because the Taliban took control of Kabul city", she told AFP, adding that her father had also opposed his daughters attending school.

"Since I heard about this literacy training centre for women, I convinced my father and he allowed me to attend on a daily basis," she said.

Nazari is delighted with the programme, which is being rolled out by a commercial provider and the ministry of education with financial backing from the United States.

The Mobile Teacher software was developed by Paiwastoon, an Afghan IT company, with $80,000 dollars in US aid and is designed to tackle one of the worst illiteracy rates in the world by riding the growing wave of .

Despite millions of girls now attending school, Afghanistan's literacy rate among women remains at just 12.5 percent, compared to 39.3 percent for Afghan men, according to United Nations figures.

"This is the first time audio-visual literacy learners have the chance to receive lessons on their cellphones," Mike Dawson, CEO of Paiwastoon, told AFP.

The company has experience in the field, having previously managed the "One Laptop Per Child" programme that handed out 3,000 computers to women and children in Kabul, Kandahar, Herat, Baghlan and Jalalabad.

"We can make the job of the teachers easier by using the video and the audio and the questions and exercises," Dawson said.

"Cellphones are cheaper than any computer and people are familiar with it. And also, the maintenance is much easier."

The free app can be installed on all mobile phones with a memory card slot and a camera. Individual lessons, which will also be made available on the ministry of education website, will teach new words and phrases.

"We try to get to as many people as possible. The other thing, we can add more subjects like English, Arabic, Pashtu, health, agriculture," Dawson added.

"For rolling out Ustad Mobile—we are looking to talk with the phone companies and the media to make people aware of the programme.

"We interviewed phone shop owners about the software and they are willing to install it for people like they install other software on mobiles," Dawson said.

"People don't realise how powerful these phones are, they work like computers."

At the moment, some 100 students are using the Mobile Teacher in a pilot project in Kabul, 65 percent of them women, with plans to roll the project out across the country, the education ministry said.

"Our focus and target is mostly on uneducated women," said director of programmes, Allah Baz Jam.

The ministry would do everything it could to promote the Ustad Mobile for women and would also distribute the software on CDs and DVDs, he told AFP.

At the pilot project class in Kabul, Samira Ahmadzai, a 24 year-old mother of two, wearing an all-enveloping burqa also said she had been unable to attend school because of the Taliban.

"And later, I got married. Now with the permission of my husband, I've come to the literacy centre to learn to read and write."

The Taliban were ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001, and have since waged an insurgency against the Western-backed government of President Karzai.

Today, of Afghanistan's 8.4 million schoolchildren, 39 percent are girls, the education ministry says.

But US-led NATO troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and rights activists fear that some of the gains made by women in the past decade could be lost as Taliban pressure on the government increases.

For now, though, the Mobile Teacher is bringing new hope to those who missed their chance of an education in the past.

Explore further: Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Mobile phones help secondary pupils

Sep 11, 2008

Ask a teacher to name the most irritating invention of recent years and they will often nominate the mobile phone. Exasperated by the distractions and problems they create, many headteachers have ordered that pupils must ...

Mobile phone English lessons a hit in Bangladesh

Dec 14, 2009

Every morning, Ahmed Shariar Sarwar makes it his daily ritual to call number 3000 on his mobile phone to get lessons in English -- his passport to a better life in impoverished Bangladesh.

Tweeters peck at secrecy over Obama's Afghan trip

May 02, 2012

The wall of secrecy around US President Barack Obama's visit to Afghanistan Tuesday cracked slightly under continual chatter on Twitter in a country obsessed by the instant communication site.

Recommended for you

Hand out money with my mobile? I think I'm ready

Apr 17, 2014

A service is soon to launch in the UK that will enable us to transfer money to other people using just their name and mobile number. Paym is being hailed as a revolution in banking because you can pay peopl ...

Quantenna promises 10-gigabit Wi-Fi by next year

Apr 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —Quantenna Communications has announced that it has plans for releasing a chipset that will be capable of delivering 10Gbps WiFi to/from routers, bridges and computers by sometime next year. ...

Tech giants look to skies to spread Internet

Apr 16, 2014

The shortest path to the Internet for some remote corners of the world may be through the skies. That is the message from US tech giants seeking to spread the online gospel to hard-to-reach regions.

Wireless industry makes anti-theft commitment

Apr 16, 2014

A trade group for wireless providers said Tuesday that the biggest mobile device manufacturers and carriers will soon put anti-theft tools on the gadgets to try to deter rampant smartphone theft.

Dish Network denies wrongdoing in $2M settlement

Apr 15, 2014

The state attorney general's office says Dish Network Corp. will reimburse Washington state customers about $2 million for what it calls a deceptive surcharge, but the satellite TV provider denies any wrongdoing.

Netflix's Comcast deal improves quality of video

Apr 14, 2014

Netflix's videos are streaming through Comcast's Internet service at their highest speeds in the past 17 months now that Netflix is paying for a more direct connection to Comcast's network.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...

Under some LED bulbs whites aren't 'whiter than white'

For years, companies have been adding whiteners to laundry detergent, paints, plastics, paper and fabrics to make whites look "whiter than white," but now, with a switch away from incandescent and fluorescent lighting, different ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

(Phys.org) —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...