Education/Newsletter/April 2017/Mobile Learning Week 2017

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Summary: A summary of the main themes from Mobile Learning Week at UNESCO in Paris where educators, tech professionals and policy makers came together to examine how technology can help provide learning opportunities for displaced people.

What we can learn from the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week 2017[edit]

Author: Nichole Saad


Keynote address at Mobile Learning Week 2017.jpg

March 20-24 saw the convergence of educators, tech professionals, and policy makers at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris for a 4 day conference organized around the topic of “Education in Emergencies (EiE)”. Mobile Learning Week (MLW) 2017 was co-hosted by UNHCR, and aimed to examine how technology can help to provide learning opportunities for displaced people. While “displaced people” might seem a narrow subset of the population, in fact, today one out of every 113 people on earth is an asylum seeker, internally displaced, or refugee [1]. Even so, the challenges of EiE are not necessarily unique to situations of conflict and crisis, and many themes that emerged are also relevant to our own work in the Wikipedia Education Program (WEP). I endeavor in this article to share the key learning points from the event, and highlight how they might impact our work or how we might impact the field through our work.

What is Mobile Learning Week?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is the United Nations agency responsible for coordinating international cooperation in education, science, culture and communication. Mobile Learning Week is an annual UNESCO conference about Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the classroom. According to UNESCO it, “convenes experts from around the world to share how affordable and powerful mobile technology – from basic handsets to the newest tablet computers – can accelerate learning for all, particularly people living in disadvantaged communities [2].”

Why is it relevant to the Wikimedia movement and the Wikipedia Education Program?

Wikipedia is a technology that is synonymous with learning, and the Wikipedia Education Program (WEP) engages educators around the world to empower their students to edit on Wikimedia projects contributing not only to knowledge production, but also to student learning around vital standards in digital and information literacy and 21st century skills. We have a lot to offer in terms of helping international actors from policy makers to classroom teachers achieve “Education for All” as outlined by the 2015 Incheon declaration. Additionally, those same actors can play a vital role in helping us achieve our mission; because, when educators use Wikipedia in the classroom, students add diverse content semester after semester, year after year. Mobile Learning Week was a golden opportunity to learn more about needs and trends in education technology, advocate for the Wikipedia Education Program, and to foster relationships with potential partners.

Overview[edit]

“ICT has the potential to change the world by promoting access to education and digital skills.” --Brahima Sanou, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU

Keynote speakers and participants of the policy forum agreed: the education sector cannot ignore the potential impact of ICT and needs to embrace new technologies and teach new literacies to prepare today’s learners for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Ita Sheehy, Senior Education Officer at UNHCR pointed out that without proper data management it is impossible to be effective. Using technology to improve education means more than just putting laptops and tablets in the hands of students--it means improving systems to provide educators and administrators with the data they need to be effective.

Finally, a powerful statement by the Minister of Education of South Sudan spoke of the need to invest in education globally. “This roadmap needs funding--we need to talk about money. We cannot change the world without investing in the world.” A call to action that was taken up by some grantmaking foundations present, pledging millions of dollars for ICT projects addressing education inequality--especially for EiE. His closing remark brought the impact home, “It was not a plane which took me from South Sudan to here, it was education in the first place!"

Major themes from presentations and workshops[edit]

I thought it was important to share with the education community the major themes that were prevalent throughout the 4 day event. I've outlined them below and have connected them to our work on the WEP. If you have thoughts or questions, please share them on the talk page!

The importance of knowledge production[edit]

There was a great emphasis placed on local knowledge production, recognizing the value of local knowledge and creating resources that are relevant to the people of a community. The Education Minister of Norway said that Norway will develop a framework for digital literacy that includes components on young people developing their own content. Martina Roth of Intel said, “We must insist on local content. Outside content will not help develop a country.”

Additionally, there was quite a bit of buzz about youth as creators. Rosalind Hudnell, President of the Intel Foundation said, “The key is not to just have young people use technology, but to create technology. We need to rethink how education is being delivered. We need to train young people for the jobs of tomorrow. Young people will be job creators.”

A cornerstone of the WEP is that programs are designed and implemented locally, meaning they are locally relevant, and students often contribute to local language Wikis or about local heritage. In this sense, we are already a leader in this important domain that was touched on by presenters at MLW.

Teacher Education[edit]

Another salient point made during MLW was the importance of teacher education. However, there is somewhat of a disagreement on this topic among educators and tech developers. At one point, a representative of a tech company said, “If technology can replace a teacher, then it should.” For educators, this exemplifies a lack of understanding on what actually happens in schools and classrooms, as demonstrated by a statement from Ita Sheehy of UNHCR, “Teachers are central and need to be supported.”

Students learn what is in the curriculum, of course, but students also learn what is not in the curriculum. Moreover, each student has their own background, needs, preferences, and abilities. There is no computer program that can replace a GOOD teacher. The problem is that, around the world, putting a good teacher in the classroom is a significant challenge. This is where technology can help, and MLW demonstrated this by highlighting teacher training programs that used simple technology to help teachers meet the needs of their students, even in the most under resourced places in the world--refugee camps.

Another important point about teacher education made by Ita Sheehy was the importance of improving teachers’ digital competencies. Many students in the world, even refugee students, digital natives--but most teachers are not. Improved digital competencies for teachers is something that is a side effect of a Wikipedia Education Program. We should think about how this happens, and if and how we can measure it.

Mobile Mentoring[edit]

Two sessions highlighted the potential impact of mobile mentoring, using technology like WhatsApp or WeChat to have experienced educators mentor teachers. Columbia Teacher’s College gave an engaging session on their Teachers for Teachers project. The Beijing Royal School also gave a workshop on the potential impact of WeChat for educators working with migrant worker’s children. I highlight these models for the consideration of future education programs a with teacher education component--mobile mentoring could be a useful model to help teachers use Wikimedia projects in the classroom. Recognition of learning and certification

Recognizing Learning[edit]

I’ll briefly touch on another topic that was discussed consistently: the importance of recognizing learning and certification. Steven Duggan, Director of Worldwide Education Strategy at Microsoft said, “Formal education cannot bear the strain of the refugee crisis. With informal education everything begins with the teacher. This is why microsoft provides a global community for teachers to collaborate, with training and free software.” With Microsoft’s training programs, teachers can become certified on their technologies.

I see this as an opportunity for us as well. I hope the education community will think more about what are the competencies needed to successfully use Wikipedia in the classroom, and I hope my team can strategize a way to certify teachers in these competencies.

The need to recognize learning was reiterated by Roland Kalamo Lyadunga, a refugee learner from South Sudan. He said, “You learn for yourself, but you need to prove to others what you know. A refugee’s life is unpredictable, they need to be able to continue with their education wherever they go.”

Inequality linked to infrastructure[edit]

Finally, I want to highlight the importance of talking about inequality linked to infrastructure. This was something that was also discussed during WMCON17, especially among the education community. If we want to reach and impact the whole world, we need to consider infrastructure. This might mean looking at providing laptops for an education project where teachers and students do not have them--but it can’t stop there. Investment in infrastructure is significant, because you cannot simply provide the infrastructure, but you must ensure users are trained and well supported. Otherwise, you cannot expect to achieve impact on educational outcomes[3].

An interesting project demonstrated at MLW was the Intel: She Will Connect project. The project paired infrastructure in the form of Kio Kits with face to face training and curriculum for those with no digital literacy skills. This could be a transferable model for leaders who want to implement a program in a location that lacks the necessary infrastructure.

Conclusion[edit]

Mobile Learning Week presented the challenges of achieving “Education for All” in the context of Education and Emergencies, and the unique opportunity to use technology to help solve these challenges. The problems and solutions are not only relevant to situations of conflict and crisis, and we can take away plenty of useful ideas for the Wikipedia Education Program. Not only that, but it was clear from discussions throughout MLW that what our program leaders are already doing is solving some of these problems, and we should strive to better measure and communicate our impact.


  1. UNHCR, 20 June 2016. http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2016/6/5763ace54/1-human-113-affected-forced-displacement-hits-record-high.html
  2. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/unesco/themes/icts/m4ed/mobile-learning-week/about-mlw/
  3. “Most countries that invested heavily in education related IT equipment did not witness an appreciable improvement in student achievement over the past 10 years” (OECD, 2015). http://www.oecd.org/education/students-computers-and-learning-9789264239555-en.htm


More information on Mobile Learning Week including streams of the policy forum, presentation documents, and the conference program can be found on the UNESCO Mobile Learning Week website


Tags:Education for All, Education in Emergencies, Mobile Learning Week, conference report