Mobile Solutions for Rural Learners in Pakistan takes a look at the current education system in Pakistan, and more specifically examines how girls in rural areas are affected by cultural constraints and the lack of quality schools and teachers. In an effort to combat these issues and promote literacy development in young girls, UNESCO and Mobilink, Pakistan’s main telecommunications provider, have teamed up and created the ‘Mobile Based Post Literacy Pilot Project.’ The success of this project illustrates the dramatic impact that mobilelearning can have on literacy rates for girls in Pakistan and provides a glimpse into the potential that these ITC’s hold for distance education in general.
Pakistan currently has the 2nd highest number of out-of-school children in the world, 60% of which are girls (Saif, 2012). Not surprisingly, Pakistan also has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world and one of the largest gaps between male and female literacy rates in Asia.Not only is there a massive gap between genders, but a huge disparity between the rich and poor exists as well. The wealthiest 20% of the population receives an average of nine years of education, whereas the poorest 20% - which is the majority of the population - has less than two and a half years. (Smith & Winthrop, 2012). Although there have been small improvements in education overall, estimates put Pakistan at having more than 55 million illiterates by the year 2015 (Miyazawa, 2012)
Growing up in rural Pakistan is difficult for most families; however, due to cultural inequalities, girls and women have it much harder. Girls in these remote areas face substantial hurdles in attaining even basic education. Approximately 65% of girls in Pakistan are illiterate, and in remote areas these numbers climb to 75% (Latif, 2009).Many villages do not have schools, and the closest schools are either inaccessible or too far away (Lloyd, Mete & Grant, 2007; Smith & Winthrop, 2012). The heavily male-dominated society of Pakistan creates further challenges for girls. Women are not considered equal to men, and their role is viewed primarily as that of mother, child-bearer and general worker (Latif, 2009). This is especially true in rural areas, where the dowry system Is still prevalent and parents would rather save money for this than pay for their daughters’ education (Latif, 2009). Women are considered less desirable than men as they can be a financial burden on a family, and since women move to their husband’s residence upon marriage, there is a push for this to happen as soon as they reach puberty (Latif, 2009).
Those girls who do have access to school face further challenges. Schools in rural communities are often gender-segregated and contain as many as 48 students per classroom (Latif, 2009). There are rarely enough materials available, and qualified teachers are hard to come by (Memon, 2007). Teacher certification only requires a tenth grade education and an 11 month training program (Memon, 2007). Rural areas are also susceptible to high degrees of corruption within the schools, with local interest groups often deciding which teachers are placed where (Memon, 2007).
Rather than go to school, most families put their daughters in the fields. Sixty five percent of Pakistan is rural, and nearly half of Pakistan’s population is involved in agriculture. 79% of this sector is attended to by young girls and women (Latif, 2009). During harvest season, nearly all primary-aged girls in rural areas are expected to help their families. For those who are in school, this means leaving temporarily to help out; however, most of these girls do not return when the harvest is finished (Latif, 2009). These accessibility and cultural barriers are compounded by the idea that formal schooling often has little relevance in day-to-day life. This steers many families toward the decision that education for their daughters is extravagant and unnecessary (Latif 2009; Lloyd, Mete & Grant, 2007; Smith & Winthrop, 2012).
This is Mashal -an 18 year old girl living in a remote area of Pakistan called TekhalBala. Her story exemplifies the realities of rural life for young girls.She describes her daily routine of cooking, cleaning, preparing food and the struggles her family has because of lack of money – her dad earns about 60 cents a day. Like most girls her age, she’s already been promised to a local village boy, whom she has never met, and her main concern is that her family will not be able to provide an adequate dowry for her future husband’s family. When asked how her life might be different had she been born a boy, Mashal replies, “If I was a boy, that could have settled everything for me. I would have done everything. Being a boy is very cool.” Asked what she would change about herself, she tells the interviewer that she only wishes she would have had the opportunity to study. She admits she cannot read or write, does not know the Quran and because of that, her life is “meaningless.” She explains that there is no school for girls in her village – there is only one for boys. As one would expect, Mashal’s home does not contain the luxuries ofa tv, a computer or Internet access. However, despite the financial struggles the family has, they do own a simple cell phone.
Mashal’s situation is not unique. Regardless of the fact that most families struggle with a lack of money and resources, many homes even in the most remote areas have cell phones due to their relative inexpensive price tag. In fact, mobile phone use in Pakistan has skyrocketed in the past decade with an estimated 125 million users, or 73% of the population (Attaa, 2013). Youth populations, specifically, prefer using mobile phones to communicate and stay connected over any other device (Miyazawa, 2012). And although more than half of Pakistan’s population resides in rural and remote villages, nearly 90% of the country is covered by some type of mobile network (Smith & Winthrop, 2012).
Because of this, mobile learning technologies offer a cost-friendly, viable solution for young girls in these rural environments where schools are often inaccessible and cultural constraints prevent them from continuing their education. UNESCO’s mobile learning project is the first of its kind to use mobile technologies to promote literacy skills. It targets young girls, aged 15-24, who already have basic literacy skills. The overwhelming majority of these girls have had some kind of formal schooling, but often return to non-literate environments that contain few, if any, reading materials (Miyazawa, 2012; Smith & Winthrop, 2012; UNESCO, 2009). The goal of this project is to provide these girls with opportunities to continue their literacy development through the use of their cell phones. The initial five-month project included 250 girls and involved sending and receiving approximately 600 text messages that included informative and relevant information, as well as language exercises and monthly assessments (Miyazawa, 2012). Students are sent messages in their native Urdu, which they transcribe into notebooks in order to practice their writing skills. Responses are then formulated and typed back via text messaging.
The project was implemented in three remote areas of the Punjab province. This graph shows the results of one of these regions. As you can see, ‘C’ scores in this area went from 90% down to 14%, and ‘A’ scores – which were non-existent at the start of the program increased to 39%.Of the three regions that participated in the initial phase, an average of 54% of the participants scored an ‘A’ on their literacy exams, an increase of 27%. Similarly, only 15% of the girls scored a ‘C’ on their exams, showing a decrease of 37% (Smith & Winthrop, 2012). The girls involved in the program reported higher levels of confidence, showed a genuine enjoyment of the program and demonstrated markedly higher learning achievements compared to traditional ways of learning (UNESCO, 2010). They also felt the text messages were relevant and interesting, as they contained information about religion, health and social matters. (Miyazawa, 2012)
Based on the success of the first phase, UNESCO immediately made plans to initiate a second phase in March of 2010 that involved over a thousand girls (UNESO, 2010) and has most recently completed a third phase at the end of 2012 (UNESCO, 2013) . Currently, over 4,000 girls and young women have participated in this mobile learning project, and UNESCO is looking ahead to implement a fourth phase this year.Several new programs have sprung up (UNESCO, 2013 ) since the initial project’s inception, one of which includes collaborating with Nokia to provide continuing education for teachers in Pakistan, as well as a separate project that includes young boys and literacy development (European Campus Online News, 2013).In a country where the rates of mobile phone use are higher than the literacy rates, mobile learning projects such as these provide real solutions for learners who have no other means of attending school or acquiring an education. I believe the continued success of these projects demonstrates the potential these mobile technologies have for rural learners, not only in Pakistan, but in other developing countries as well.
Mobile Solutions for
Rural Learners in
A Brief Overview of UNESCO’s ‘Mobile
Based Post Literacy Pilot Project’
Boise State University
An Educational Emergency
• Low literacy rates
• Gap between
males and females
Girls in Blue (2012)
• Accessibility issues
• Disparity between
rich & poor
Rural Kids (n.d.)
Miyazawa, 2012; Saif, 2012; Smith & Winthrop,
Growing up in Remote Pakistan
• Role of women
• Dowry System
• Views toward
Village Daughter Sewing (n.d.)
Latif, 2009; Lloyd, Mete & Grant, 2007; Smith & Winthrop, 2012
Education in Rural Pakistan
• Lack of materials
• Lack of teachers
Latif, 2009; Memon, 2007
Girls Remain Unschooled (n.d.)
Women in the Fields
Cotton Picker (2006)
Gilani, M. (2010)
• Half of Pakistan’s population works in
• 79% is managed by girls and young
Latif 2009; Lloyd, Mete & Grant, 2007; Smith & Winthrop, 2012
• Lack of access to
• Lack of resources
• Mobile phone use
Kimball, G. (2010)
• 73% of the
population owns a
Pakistan Woman on Phone (2013)
• 90% of the
Atta, 2013; Miyazawa, 2012; Smith &
Two Girls on Phones (n.d.)
• Targets girls in
in reading and
• Five months
Miyazawa, 2012; Smith & Winthrop, 2012; UNESCO, 2009
Miyazawa, 2012; Smith & Winthrop, 2012; UNESCO, 2010
Girls Using Mobile Phone, 2012
• Over 4,000 girls affected
• Currently initiating 4th phase
• Success has led to new projects
European Campus Online News, 2013; UNESCO, 2010; UNESCO, 2013
Attaa, A. (2013). Pakistan crosses 125 million mobile phone users. ProPakistani. Retrieved from
Cotton picker (2006). [Photograph] Retrieved from
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program. Retrieved from http://www.ibercampus.eu/unesco-launches-the-third-phase-of-the-mobilebased-literacy-program-444.htm
Gilani, M. (2010). Sugarcane harvest in Pakistan. [Photograph]. Retrieved from
Girls in blue (2012). [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://www.brecorder.com/images/pic2012/09/literacypakistan-brecorder.jpg
Girls remain unschooled (n.d.) [Photograph] Retrieved from http://learningpk.com/literacy-in-pakistan-90-girlsremain-unschooled-in-rural-balochistan/
Girls using mobile phone (2012) [Photograph]. Retrieved rom
Kimball, G. (2010). Mashal [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://opendoorsliteracyproject.weebly.com/interviewwith-an-illiterate-village-girl-in-pakistan.html
Kimball, G. (2010). Interview with an illiterate village girl in Pakistan [Web log comment]. Retrieved from
Latif, A. (2009). A critical analysis of school enrollment and literacy rates of girls and women in Pakistan.
Educational Studies, 45, 424-439. doi:10.1080/00131940903190477
Lloyd, C., Mete, C., & Grant, M. (2007). Rural Girls in Pakistan: Constraints of Policy and Culture. In M. A.
Lewis and M. E. Lockheed (Eds.), Exclusion, gender and education: Case studies from the developing
world. Retrieved from http://www.cgdev.org/doc/books/lewis-lockheed-eduCaseStudies/lewis-lockheedchapter4.pdf
Memon, G. (2007). Education in Pakistan: The key issues, problems and the new challenges. Journal of
Management and Social Sciences, 3(1), 47-55.
Miyazawa, I. (2012). Literacy promotion through mobile phones. Paper presented at the 13th UNESCO-APEID
International Conference and World Bank-KERIS High Level Seminar on ICT in Education. Retrieved from
Pakistan woman on phone (2013) [Photograph] Retrieved from
Rural kids (n.d.) [Photograph] Retrieved from http://www.om.org/img/m35521.jpg
Saif, U. (2012). Leveraging mobile phones for primary education in Pakistan. World Economic Forum Blog.
Retrieved from http://forumblog.org/2012/11/leveraging-mobile-phones-for-primary-education-in-pakistan/
Smith, M. & Winthrop, R. (2012). A new face of education: Bringing technology into the classroom in the
developing world (Working Paper No. 1). Retrieved from The Brookings Institution website:
Two girls on phone (n.d.) [Photograph]. Retrieved from
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2009). Mobilink, UNESCO to use mobile phones
to increase access to literacy [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.unic.org.pk/pdf/PR%20%20UNESCO,%20Mobile%20Literacy.pdf
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2010). UNESCO & Mobilink, driving female
literacy through connectivity [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.unic.org.pk/pdf/PR%20%20UNESCO,%20Mobile%20Literacy.pdf
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2013). Mobile learning projects to empower rural
women in Pakistan. Retrieved from http://www.unescobkk.org/education/ict/online-resources/databases/ictin-education-database/item/article/mobile-learning-projects-to-empower-rural-women-in-pakistan/
Village daughter sewing (n.d.) [Photograph] Retrieved from