Global and local players launched on Wednesday, Sept. 25, a ?ground-breaking? collaborative effort to provide mobile education to Filipino out-of-school youth.
Spearheaded by the GSMA, the global association of GSM operators and equipment makers, the ?mEducation? project involves the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), along with Digitel Mobile Philippines Inc. (DMPI), Globe Telecom, and Smart Communications.
The GSMA will be working with the government agencies and all mobile network operators to provide up to one million Filipino out-of-school youths (OSYs) across the K-12 spectrum with additional opportunities to access education, including technical vocational (tech-voc) education, via the mobile media.
The work will be undertaken as part of a program called ?Abot Alam?, a national strategy to organize efforts in return-to-education programs for OSYs.
By cooperating to create e-Abot Alam, the operators are eyeing to extend knowledge through the support and reach of mobile, especially for those in underserved and geographically isolated communities, to complement the efforts of multiple government agencies.
Fernando Esguerra, OIC for corporate social responsibility at Globe, said in an interview that the signing of the multi-party agreement represents a ?statement of commitment? among the agencies and telcos concerned.
Esguerra said the collaboration will start with the setting up of a project management office (PMO) whose initial goal is to create a portal where educational content can be stored.
?The portal will run across various platforms and will be accessible via PC, tablet, or phone. If accessed by feature phones, it will be able to send SMS instructions or voice recordings,? said Esguerra.
The telco executive pointed, however, that the initiative will not entail giving out phones or wireless units since this practice is not sustainable. ?Based on our research, most OSYs have phones anyway. So all they need is content,? he said.
Esguerra said those that will be enrolled under the program can be given the equivalent degree program indicated under the alternative learning system of the DepEd or Tesda.
The National Statistics Office has reported that in 2011, there were at least 6.24 million out-of-school youths in the country.
?We are excited to be acting as advisor for this mEducation initiative, providing support to include best practice and business model expertise to the project,? said Irene Ng, head of Asia, GSMA.
?Never before has such an ambitious mEducation collaboration taken place in the Philippines, involving all three mobile network operators and two key government agencies,? Ng said.
The Asian mEducation market is projected to reach $6.8 billion by 20172, said Ng.
Mobile technology is uniquely positioned to help bring education solutions to learners, including OSYs, in the Philippines. The country has a very high adoption of mobile technology and is known as the ?SMS capital of the world?, with Filipinos sending over two billion messages every day.
The mobile penetration rate in the country was 105 percent by the end of 2012, and the smartphone penetration rate nearly tripled between 2010 and 2011, growing from nine percent to 24 percent.
The GSMA?s global mEducation project aims to accelerate the adoption of mobile education solutions, particularly mobile-enabled portable devices, such as e-readers and tablets.
?From a government perspective, supporting out-of-school youths is a priority for 2014 and beyond. We welcome the support that can be facilitated by mobile education because we believe it?s a flexible medium that can help us tackle a lot of the challenges we face in the education and training sector in our country,? commented Mario A. Deriquito, DepEd undersecretary for partnerships and external linkages.
?Given that many of the efforts to assist OSYs will be localized, mobile technology provides us with a tool that can help unify and coordinate this work even from a distance,? Deriquito added.
Tesda director-general Joel Villanueva, on the other hand, said the Philippines has the potential to become a world leader in service provision of mobile-based tech-voc training.
?Mobile is an ideal vehicle to provide opportunities for learning and training that would otherwise be inaccessible in a country with numerous islands, particularly to those young people for whom the cost of attending classes or training in person is prohibitive.
The GSMA will be showcasing the mEducation project at the Unesco Mobile Learning Week and the GSMA Mobile World Congress, both of which will take place in February 2014.