In 2008, SPRINT, USA was approached to donate 100 recycled mobile phones for the 3rd Phase of the Learning Academy Worldwide initiative for literacy and numeracy improvement in South Africa. That 3rd phase, funded by a grant from the MacArthur Foundation and Learning Academy Worldwide (The Academy), engaged two primary schools in South Africa between August 2009 through June 2010 in the use of recycled mobile phones for English language instruction and teacher development.
The resulting report in 2010 highlighted the positive attitude from all teachers involved who concluded that this inexpensive technology has the power to positively transform teaching and learning.
The availability of recycled inexpensive technology was key to igniting the idea that South Africa was ready to use mobile phones for learning because the Academy could demonstrate to teachers, to government, University lecturers and, above all, to students that the mobile phone is a useful tool for 21st century learning.
Additionally, its availability provided opportunities for young high school graduates to serve under-resourced schools by volunteering assistance to teachers through the loading of curriculum-related content on the phones, charging the devices and helping to manage over-sized classes.
During the 2010-2011 academic year, young German Volunteer, Thomas Ridder assisted young Grade 7 learners at Pula Difate Primary School in Pretoria, enabling them to create their own digital book of memories using a mobile phone - the availability of the devices to the the school made this dream possible. Even when di Gameworks trained two Grade 7 classes from our schools in South Africa, the mobile phones helped the students to capture data that was used to create their own online games based on addressing the problem of access to healthcare in their community.
Learning happens anywhere with the Sprint smartphones donated to the M-Ubuntu project in South Africa. At Pula Difate Primary School, just north of
Pretoria, German Literacy Volunteer, Mr Thomas Ridder, inspired young people in Grade 7 to produce their own book of Memories.
Since June 2010, the Academy invested extensively in the promotion of Mobile Learning at conferences in Germany, Dubai, South Africa, Spain, the UK and the USA where the presence of those recycled little powerhouses was instrumental to help sensitize adult learners and teachers to its possibilities, fueling a desire in Universities and organizations to partner for improved quality learning experiences for all young learners in South Africa. As a consequence, two hundred more devices were needed. The first University in South Africa, Durban University of Technology, who attended one of the M-Ubuntu presentations in Madrid, SPAIN, conducted by literacy specialist, Lucy Haagen, applied for support for English language instruction and needed assistance to enable them to fulfil their community engagement endeavour at a high school (Ilanga Secondary School) in the region.
SPRINT was unwavering in its support and provided the needed devices. The first training at the University was completed close to the end of 2011, followed up by exam preparation support for 225 Grade 12 students at two high schools. In collaboration with the Durban University of Technology, M-Ubuntu udes the Mobile Phones to help students prepare for this high stakes exam.
In the 2011-2012 phase of the project work in South Africa, Sprint phones were used in a remote region of the North West Province of South Africa to substantiate the case for the devices as 'off-the-grid' solutions. Again the focus was on Grade 12 students where the devices were loaded with curriculum-related content on Micro-SD cards and students could take the devices home with them. At the end of 2014, the set of Sprint phones (Palm Treo 800W) were used by a 3rd generation of Grade 12 students. Impact on student outcomes are being measured all the time and schools are recording higher percentages of attendance and improved quality of the pass rate for the Grade 12 exam.
The year 2014 also saw the first deployment of Mobile phones within Deaf Education. A school in the Durban region in South Africa is the first of its kind where each of the 56 students uses a Sprint phone for learning. Teachers create content and, after transferring them onto the phones, avail the devices to the children to extend their learning experience. Additional support for parents through the use of the phones is being explored.
Teacher development initiatives took on new shape when Sprint phones were introduced as viable tools for learning. While there is still a long way to go before teachers venture to use the devices in their teaching, several training conferences with teachers found teachers to be overwhelmingly positive when using the devices for their own learning. Additionally, the training sessions enabled students to come alongside teachers as non-threatening coaches who as young tech-savvy assistants provided help in mastering the navigation of the devices.