Mobile Learning Week in Paris – the fourth Mobile Learning Week, and the first to focus on the role of mobile learning in empowering women and girls. Co-hosted by UN Women and with a keynote by Cherie Blair, themes included equitable access, gender sensitive content, literacy and skill development. I was honoured to be a plenary panellist on the skills development plenary panel, alongside Urvashi Sahni from the Study Hall Educational Foundation, Njideka Harry from Youth for Technology Foundation and Sheila Scott from IREX, with the panel moderated by Patience Stephens from UN Women. It was a fascinating panel to be on – not least because the panelists were all experts in the field and had strong and worthwhile points to make, but also because we all came at this topic from different angles and contexts: from a mobile operator perspective, from an NGO perspective or from a social enterprise perspective, and from contexts across Africa, Asia, Europe and the US.Last week saw UNESCO host the annual
Throughout the discussion, some really interesting points emerged around the things to consider when developing mobile products for women. But the main one that seemed to stick with me was that we were all in agreement that there are some wonderful things happening out there in terms of using mobile for skill development for girls, but we’re not sharing them widely. The beauty of a conference like Mobile Learning Week is that people working in this still-niche field gather from around the world to hear about what others are doing – but it only happens once a year, and it’s not necessarily on the same theme every year. Organisations are implementing mobile learning projects for girls and women, and they learn many operational lessons along the way that could help others doing a similar thing – but there’s are few platforms to share these learnings. For example, I’ve learnt a lot in my work about what works and what doesn’t work in developing IVR educational materials that could help other organisations, but it’s not necessarily something I’d publish an academic paper on. Similarly, I’ve learnt a lot from my failures in ICT4D – but failures are not something that people are willing to share, because of fears of loss of funding, for example. Organisations will happily share successes though – but I think that failures are just as important for sharing knowledge.
For the past four years, FHI360, Plan International USA and TechChange have been running a Fail Fest in Washington DC – where people and organisations talk about their failures openly. As FailFest puts it:
“Failure. No one likes to admit they failed. Yet, failure is normal. We all fail. More importantly, we must fail! Failure is the only true mark of leadership, innovation, and risk-taking in pushing the boundaries of what is possible in scaling ideas from pilots to global programs.
In mobile learning, we need a similar thing: we need to be more open about our failures as well as our successes – and share all the work we are doing more widely, with our peers. There definitely seemed to be consensus amongst both the panel and the audience at UNESCO Mobile Learning Week – the question is now, how do we build that network? Suggestions ranged from more academic papers to a Working Group of Practitioners who regularly collaborate, meet and bounce ideas and learnings off each other. Mobile Learning Week is in the beginnings of this – more and more people are coming every year, more mobile learning projects for women are starting up, and more M&E is being done. What is important is that we keep the momentum going, and document what doesn’t work as well as what does.
Alexandra Tyers Co-Founder and Director Panoply Digital