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The English and Information Technology for Adolescents (EITA) project

Courtesy of BRAC

A British Council mobile learning programme has evolved out of a project delivered in partnership with BRAC.  The English and Information Technology for Adolescents (EITA) project develops English communicative and IT skills to adolescent girls from rural poor areas of Bangladesh. This is achieved by girls accessing British Council learning content through netbooks and sessions taking place in the safe and secure environment of peer group sessions led by Peer Group leaders.    

The development of these 21st century skills feeds into the overarching objectives of an Adolescent Development program (ADP) run by BRAC.  These objectives centre on empowerment of the girls leading to positive societal impact through enhanced employment and life opportunities for the girls including a reduction in the number of girls marrying early. 

To date the project has been very successful with the programme directly enabling  10% of the participants in  finding income generating employment and over 50% of the participants  becoming  actively engaged in   volunteer roles within the community often involving a leadership element.  

One of our key challenges has been finding ways for the program to scale up in a manner which does not compromise the quality whilst enabling a significantly larger reach to be achieved without involving upwardly spiralling costs.  BRAC has 9,000 clubs attended by over 200,000 girls and in Bangladesh there are up to 20 million adolescent girls who could benefit from such a program.        

Mobile learning was seen as one solution to this scaling challenge.   

To implement mobile learning partnership is crucial and BRAC – GSMA – Robi (a Bangladesh mobile operator) and British Council formed a partnership consortium. In this GSMA funded project British Council was given the responsibility for the content of the mobile learning program.     

A needs assessment was conducted and a rigorous analysis was made of the context including the beneficiaries access to mobile and the type of handsets they were able to access. As a result of the information gathered it was decided a mobile IVR programme would be the most appropriate.  IVR learning involves the participants listening to mobile audio content and also recording themselves onto the handsets.  

Many of the girls stated a need for improved English levels based on employment aspirations and accordingly the content developed reflected the need for English for the workplace.   The content also needed to be motivating, relevant and gender sensitive. To achieve this a story was developed which follows the journey of a Bangladesh girl from the rural area achieving her goal of working in a computer shop. It was important that the heroine of the story is somebody the girls can relate to.  A female Bangladesh teacher, who gives instructions and language explanations, is also embedded into the content.              

Before launching the service user testing was conducted. 

The information obtained from the user testing was very encouraging with 90% of users reporting that all the 17 units are very important for their lives to get good jobs.

100% of users stated that they found the navigation easy and didn’t require any extra help in going through the lessons and units. 

Some users commented that they couldn’t afford to go for private tuition to learn English but the mobile learning gave them ‘a very nice, personal , innovative and easy way to learn English’      

The mobile learning content has been extremely well received by the beneficiaries but some key challenges to this type of program currently represent  barriers to a mass engagement.

The first challenge is individual self-study required by mobile learning. This study approach is something the girls are not habituated to and they find it difficult to remain engaged and focused through a whole 17 unit course of self-study.  The solution is a blended learning approach which can be achieved through mixing mobile learning with peer supported sessions in the BRAC ADP clubs. Feedback also indicates that an accredited assessment of the learners’ achievements and progress would also be useful in helping to sustain motivation.   

The second major challenge is around a pay for service. The goal is that the beneficiaries pay an appropriate amount for the service which represents value for money and this in turn generates sufficient income to enable the project to sustain itself with reference to the costs.  At the present moment it appears that though there is a huge demand for English the beneficiaries and their families, often on limited incomes, do not prioritise it as a service they would pay for and significant subsidising is needed or a free service offered.  The service also needs to be linked to awareness raising campaigns and promotion of the service. 

Another challenge is that though mobile penetration is high in Bangladesh the girls themselves often do not have access to a handset and there is a large digital – gender divide. An immediate solution is to provide the girls with handsets but longer term the statistics indicate that more and more girls will have access to mobile learning.  Awareness raising campaigns within the communities also help girls to access mobile learning, especially in the context where a family has one handset to which the girls had previously been denied access. 

The extremely positive response to mobile learning from the girls, its relative cost effectiveness and ability to reach large numbers of beneficiaries, ensures a bright future for this learning mode.       

  

Quotes from Users 

It’s really a new and exciting experience for me.”

- Khadiza Akter Diba. Shyamoli, Dhaka

 

“I don’t know English and it’s not possible for me to get admitted into an English medium education, as we are very poor. So, it’d be a great opportunity for me if I can learn English sitting at home through this service.”

- Lucky Akter Diba. Mirpur, Dhaka

 

“There are many people who can easily learn new English words and sentences using internet. But I don’t have any internet connection. So, this service will be helpful for my type of learners. I can easily use my mobile phone to learn and practice English using this service.”

- Shahnaz Akter, Manikganj

 

"this service will be really helpful for me to develop my English skill and my career.”

- Mitu Akter, Tangail

  

Andrew Jones and Mostofa Mohiuddin, British Council, Bangladesh

For further enquiry about this project, please write to mostofa.mohiuddin@britishcouncil.org



24.03.2015