PakAlumni Worldwide: The Global Social Network

The Global Social Network

Empowering Pakistani Women and Poor With Phones, Literacy

A pilot program in Pakistan has demonstrated the effectiveness of pushing mass literacy through the use of cell phone text messaging capability. The five-month experiment, initiated by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), targeted 250 females aged 15 to 24 years old in three districts of Pakistan's Punjab province. In this pilot project which successfully concluded last month, the participant who have just completed the basic literacy course, were given a mobile phone each. They received three text messages a day in the local language. They were required to practice reading and writing the messages in their work book and reply to their teachers by text.



The success of this mass literacy initiative augurs well in a country like Pakistan, where the mobile phone penetration is among the highest in the developing world, and the number of mobile subscribers has rocketed from less than 2 million to more than 94 million (58% penetration) from 2002 to 2009. It is also significant because Pakistan also has the dubious distinction of having the fourth largest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India, China and Bangladesh, according to a recently released UNESCO report. India and Pakistan also have the worst gender gaps in literacy rates, exceeding 22%.



The Daily Galaxy website has reported that a project, called Celedu, is starting its work in some rural villages in India, but hopes to expand far beyond that. Its initial offerings include cellphone-based games and quizzes that can teach basic literacy skills. For example, a child in India can play a game of Snakes and Ladders on the phone by answering multiple-choice questions about which words begin with a particular letter in the Hindi alphabet. Each correct answer allows the child's marker to advance through the game board, providing a fun and competitive approach to learning the written language.

"The biggest disease in India is illiteracy," which affects 400 million people there, says team member Rafael de Cardenas of Sloan. A PC-based version of the program, called Tele Akshar, "has already taught 54,000 women in 300 villages," he says, and the cellphone version should be able to reach far more people, according to Daily Galaxy.

In addition to education and healthcare, access to financial services has been fairly limited in Pakistan, particularly for the rural poor. The total banking sector serves around 6 million borrowers and 25 million depositors, implying a penetration rate of 3.6 percent and 15 percent respectively. In terms of access to microfinance, which means the availability of small loans, micro deposits and micro-insurance services to low income households, the current penetration rate is only 10 percent. In other words, 85 percent of Pakistan's population does not have access to any financial services at all, which inherently creates an uneven and an inequitable economic world, where the majority of people are financially marginalized. This situation drives the poor to rely on informal sources of funding like the unscrupulous moneylender, where the calculus of the relationship works to the detriment of the borrower. Well regulated banking and microfinance sectors are, therefore, absolutely necessary to give hope to the poor in breaking the vicious cycle of dependence and poverty.

Now, a number of telecom operators have now joined hands with financial institutions to extend the reach of financial services to the previously un-served masses, according to Babar Bhatti who operates "State of Telecom Industry" website. A successful example is Easypaisa, a telenor and Tameer Microfinance Bank joint offering that offers quick and easy remittance capability for the migrant workers wanting to send money to their loved ones.

The dramatic growth of cell phone usage in the developing world has created tremendous opportunities to deliver some of the basic ingredients of human development to the people, including education and health care. It has spawned a whole new field of research called "Information and Communication Technologies For Development" abbreviated as ICT4D. The UNESCO female literacy pilot helps establish some credibility for the advocates of ICT4D.

At MIT's Legatum Center, whose director Iqbal Quadir was the founder of Bangladesh's GrameenPhone, improving the delivery of health care in rural areas has been one major focus of their research efforts. Patients in a remote village, for example, now may have to spend a whole day or more traveling to the nearest clinic in order to be tested, diagnosed and receive treatment or a prescription drug for their health problems. But a new open-source software system developed by students who formed a nonprofit company called Moca could provide a faster way, according to a report in Daily Galaxy.

Using a menu of questions downloaded to a cellphone - and, if necessary, a picture taken with the phone's built in camera - a patient can transmit enough information to a doctor or nurse in a remote location to get a preliminary diagnosis, and to find out whether the condition warrants a trip to the clinic or not. "In developing countries, 80 percent of all physicians are in urban areas," while most of the people live in the countryside, according to Moca team member Richard Lu, an MIT graduate student in biomedical informatics.

A GSM Association study conducted by Deloitte and Touche in 2007 estimated that the mobile industry created 220,000 high-paying jobs in Pakistan and accounted for 5% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and approximately 6% of the total taxes collected by the Central Board of Revenue. The study also found that Pakistan’s economy and society is benefiting from rising mobile phone usage and low tariffs, which lowers the cost of doing business and improves productivity, while helping families and friends to connect to each other at home and abroad.



Several studies by ICT4D researchers in Pakistan and other developing nations have concluded that the use of cell phones have helped reduce poverty and improve incomes of small vendors and service providers, such as beauticians, fishermen, taxi drivers, delivery people and small shopkeepers.

As the mobile broadband roll-out with WiMax, and EVDO takes off in Pakistan, the mobile internet can become a reality, opening up vast opportunities for delivering more advanced capabilities for education, health care and business for the ordinary people. One example is a Cisco project in Pakistan, where a trial combines satellite and WiMAX connectivity to mobile units to provide earlier cancer screening to rural patients.

Many critics and cynics have long dismissed the growing use of cell phones in Pakistan as just a waste of time and money. Based on the efforts of ICT4D believers, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the mobile phone in developing world could prove to be a an extremely useful tool providing a huge boost for human development, productivity and prosperity of the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Related Links:

Poverty Reduction Through Telecom Access

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Pakistan Tops Text Message Growth

WiMax Rollout in Pakistan

Mobile Internet in Pakistan

Low Literacy Threatens Pakistan's Future

Gender Gap in South Asia

Mobile Financial Services in Pakistan

Financial Services in Pakistan

Views: 123

Tags: Cell, Female, Literacy, Pakistan, Phones, Poor

Comment by Riaz Haq on January 7, 2012 at 12:12pm

Here's a Brookings Inst paper on mobile phones are helping increase female literacy in Pakistan:

In the small village of Hafizibad in Pakistan’s Punjab province, a young girl is using her mobile phone to send an SMS message in Urdu to her teacher. After sending, she receives messages from her teacher in response, which she diligently copies by hand in her notebook to practice her writing skills. She does this from the safety of her home, and with her parents’ permission, during the school break, which is significant due to the insecurity of the rural region in which she lives. The girl is part of a Mobilink-UNESCO program to increase literacy skills among girls in Pakistan. Initial outcomes look positive; after four months, the percentage of girls who achieved an A level on literacy examinations increased from 27 percent to 54 percent. Likewise, the percentage of girls who achieved a C level on examinations decreased from 52 percent to 15 percent. The power of mobile phone technology, which is fairly widespread in Pakistan, appears in this case to help hurdle several education barriers by finding new ways to support learning for rural girls in insecure areas—girls who usually have limited opportunities to attend school and who frequently do not receive individual attention when they do. Often they live in households with very few books or other materials to help them retain over summer vacation what they learned during the school year.

http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2012/01_education_technology_winthr...

Comment by Riaz Haq on April 20, 2013 at 6:28pm

Here's a Carnegie Mellon University press release on Polly, an app for illiterate job seekers:

PITTSBURGH-A silly telephone game that became a viral phenomenon in Pakistan has demonstrated some serious potential for teaching poorly educated people about automated voice services and provided a new tool for them to learn about jobs, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

The game, called Polly, is simplicity itself: a caller records a message and Polly adds funny sound effects, such as changing a male's voice to a female voice (or vice versa), or making the caller sound like a drunk chipmunk. The caller can then forward the message to one or more friends, who in turn can forward it along or reply to it.

Polly may not sound like a research project, but Roni Rosenfeld, professor in Carnegie Mellon's Language Technologies Institute, said it is pioneering the use of entertainment to reach illiterate and low-literate people and introduce them to the potential of telephone-based services. Such phone services could help non-affluent, poorly educated people find jobs, find or sell merchandise, become politically active, create speech-based mailing lists and even support citizen journalism.

But people can't use these services if they don't know how.

rosenfeldEven though most people in Pakistan have access to a phone, many don't understand the technology behind an automated telephone-based service, said Agha Ali Raza, a Ph.D. student in language technology and a native Pakistani. "They expect to talk to a person on the other end of the line," he explained. "When they hear, 'Press 1 to do this,' or 'Press 2 to do that,' they don't press anything; they just start talking."

With Polly, Rosenfeld, Raza and Umar Saif, an associate professor of computer science at LUMS, have shown that if the training is fun, people will not only learn how to use phone-based services, but will eagerly spread the word and even show each other how to use it. Polly was launched in Lahore, Pakistan in May 2012 by giving its phone number to five poor, low-skilled workers. By mid-September, 85,000 people had used it almost half a million times.

Though budget pressures forced researchers to begin limiting calls to Polly in September, the total number of users climbed to more than 160,000 people, including some non-Pakistanis, as of mid-April. Overall, the system has handled almost 2.5 million calls. The project continues to run.

razaWhat's more, Polly doesn't just deliver funny messages; it also includes job listings. "We daily scan Pakistani newspapers for advertisements for jobs that are appropriate for low-skilled, low-literate workers, record them in the local language and make them available for audio-browsing during the interaction with Polly," Rosenfeld said. As of mid-April, the ads had been listened to more than 380,000 times and had been forwarded more than 21,000 times.

Raza, the lead author, will present results of the research on May 1 at CHI 2013, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Paris, where the report has received a Best Paper award.

Rosenfeld said the entertainment value of Polly helped it spread rapidly, but can't sustain it over time, noting game play dropped rapidly as its novelty wore off. But adding services, such as the job ads, can keep people calling in.

"We found that users took to the job information in large numbers and that many of them started calling Polly specifically for that service - exactly the result we had hoped for," he said....

http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2013/april/april18_polly.html

Comment by Riaz Haq on September 12, 2013 at 10:18pm

Here's a Newstribe story on USAID program to increase literacy in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD: The United States announces the launch of the Pakistan Reading Project to boost the reading skills of 3.2 million Pakistani children.

This project will fund improvements in reading instruction and reading assessment in grades one through five throughout the Pakistani public school system. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is partnering with regional governments and Pakistani civil society organizations, will implement this $160 million project in an estimated 38,000 public schools over the next five years.

The launch of this program on International Literacy Day, observed annually on September 8, demonstrates the firm commitment of the United States and its Pakistani partners to improving critical reading and writing skills.

“The Pakistan Reading Project provides Pakistani children an opportunity to develop skills which are essential for success in higher education and in the workplace. Children who do not learn to read in the first few grades of school will struggle to keep up with classroom assignments in later grades,” Gregory Gottlieb, Mission Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said after the agreement was signed between USAID and IRC. “IRC is honored to work on such an important project which will help improve the quality of education for millions of Pakistani children,” IRC Chief of Party, John Shumaker, said.

This initiative is just one part of a comprehensive U.S. education assistance program which includes building or rehabilitating nearly 800 schools; launching new degree programs in education at 90 colleges and universities; providing scholarships for 12,000 students to study in Pakistan; and operating the largest Fulbright academic exchange program in the world.

http://www.thenewstribe.com/2013/09/06/international-literacy-day-u...

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