As a student and practitioner of the capability approach, one of the first things that I read towards my PhD on the topic of gender and mobile learning was an article by Ingrid Robeyns titled Three Models of Education: Rights, Capabilities and Human Capital. At the time, I was struggling with where I stood in relation to my approach to education. While I definitely knew that I was not very focused on the argument of becoming educated solely to earn a living (human capital), reading this article made me also begin to reconsider the link between education and human rights. While human rights and the capability approach are linked on many fronts, one critical question that Robeyns raises is, from the human rights perspective, whose responsibility is it to enforce these rights that have been enshrined in constitutions, charters, and national policies around the globe? As the internationally recognized center for advocacy in the area of education, UNESCO has long championed education as a human right. However, UNESCO faces significant constraints to helping governments realize the delivery of this right to education for all due to constraints such as:
- being perpetually underfunded and
- being filled with elite groups of people with the best educational backgrounds and socio-economic circumstances who often have plentiful wherewithal to (try to) afford the cost of living at a UNESCO duty station without remuneration as interns, but still have fairly little first-hand knowledge about what it is like to struggle for education as someone who is poor or otherwise marginalized.
In late December 2015, UNESCO Bangkok released an app "...for all those who want to better understand what free speech is, why it matters, what are its limits and what each of us can do to protect and defend it." While undoubtedly noble in aim, I find a few big problems with this.
First, was creating the app the most effective use of limited funding to perform advocacy work towards the promotion of freedom of expression? Second, who will this app actually reach given that it only appears to be available on iOS or Android-based smartphones? Maybe people in Myanmar will be able to benefit as the newly minted smartphone-first country, but as the GSMA notes in its 2015 Mobile Economy Report for Asia Pacific, "...Asia Pacific is a region with a very large gap between the most advanced markets (such as South Korea) and a large number of countries and territories with more limited rates of smartphone adoption."
Although the app is not Asia-Specific (::rimshot::), for many of the countries where freedom of expression is constantly under threat, access to the smart devices needed to learn about rights in this area is presently limited primarily to those who are limiting or are otherwise complicit in limiting this right for people. As of Monday 15 February 2016, there have been approximately 10-50 installs of this app from the Google Play store and I could not find statistics for the iPhone version, but I imagine that it is in the same range of downloads, if not lower.
My third and perhaps the most important issue with the app is that even if it did happen to reach millions of people, once they learn about their right to freely express themselves and what they can do to protect this right, will the right ever actually be enforced for them given the contexts they live in? Universalizing instruction in this area is nigh impossible, in my opinion; to even attempt to do so - and through a medium that the people who need it most may not have access to - undoubtedly lessens the potential impact to be realized since what may make sense in Thailand may not actually work or be applicable in Poland.
Sadly, I think that UNESCO Bangkok may have jumped the shark with this app. Surely, there must be better ways to approach this issue. What do you think? Sound off below!