Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mobile Phones For Mass Literacy in Pakistan

A pilot program in Pakistan has demonstrated the effectiveness of pushing mass literacy through the use of cell phone text messaging capability. The five-month experiment, initiated by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), targeted 250 females aged 15 to 24 years old in three districts of Pakistan's Punjab province. In this pilot project which successfully concluded last month, the participant who have just completed the basic literacy course, were given a mobile phone each. They received three text messages a day in the local language. They were required to practice reading and writing the messages in their work book and reply to their teachers by text.

The success of this mass literacy initiative augurs well in a country like Pakistan, where the mobile phone penetration is among the highest in the developing world, and the number of mobile subscribers has rocketed from less than 2 million to more than 94 million (58% penetration) from 2002 to 2009.

It is also significant because Pakistan also has the dubious distinction of having the fourth largest number of illiterate adults in the world, after India, China and Bangladesh, according to a recently released UNESCO report. India and Pakistan also have the worst gender gaps in literacy rates, exceeding 22%.

The Daily Galaxy website has reported that a project, called Celedu, is starting its work in some rural villages in India, but hopes to expand far beyond that. Its initial offerings include cellphone-based games and quizzes that can teach basic literacy skills. For example, a child in India can play a game of Snakes and Ladders on the phone by answering multiple-choice questions about which words begin with a particular letter in the Hindi alphabet. Each correct answer allows the child's marker to advance through the game board, providing a fun and competitive approach to learning the written language.

"The biggest disease in India is illiteracy," which affects 400 million people there, says team member Rafael de Cardenas of Sloan. A PC-based version of the program, called Tele Akshar, "has already taught 54,000 women in 300 villages," he says, and the cellphone version should be able to reach far more people, according to Daily Galaxy.

In addition to education and healthcare, access to financial services has been fairly limited in Pakistan, particularly for the rural poor. The total banking sector serves around 6 million borrowers and 25 million depositors, implying a penetration rate of 3.6 percent and 15 percent respectively. In terms of access to microfinance, which means the availability of small loans, micro deposits and micro-insurance services to low income households, the current penetration rate is only 10 percent. In other words, 85 percent of Pakistan's population does not have access to any financial services at all, which inherently creates an uneven and an inequitable economic world, where the majority of people are financially marginalized. This situation drives the poor to rely on informal sources of funding like the unscrupulous moneylender, where the calculus of the relationship works to the detriment of the borrower. Well regulated banking and microfinance sectors are, therefore, absolutely necessary to give hope to the poor in breaking the vicious cycle of dependence and poverty.

Now, a number of telecom operators have now joined hands with financial institutions to extend the reach of financial services to the previously un-served masses, according to Babar Bhatti who operates "State of Telecom Industry" website. A successful example is Easypaisa, a telenor and Tameer Microfinance Bank joint offering that offers quick and easy remittance capability for the migrant workers wanting to send money to their loved ones.

The dramatic growth of cell phone usage in the developing world has created tremendous opportunities to deliver some of the basic ingredients of human development to the people, including education and health care. It has spawned a whole new field of research called "Information and Communication Technologies For Development" abbreviated as ICT4D. The UNESCO female literacy pilot helps establish some credibility for the advocates of ICT4D.

At MIT's Legatum Center, whose director Iqbal Quadir was the founder of Bangladesh's GrameenPhone, improving the delivery of health care in rural areas has been one major focus of their research efforts. Patients in a remote village, for example, now may have to spend a whole day or more traveling to the nearest clinic in order to be tested, diagnosed and receive treatment or a prescription drug for their health problems. But a new open-source software system developed by students who formed a nonprofit company called Moca could provide a faster way, according to a report in Daily Galaxy.

Using a menu of questions downloaded to a cellphone - and, if necessary, a picture taken with the phone's built in camera - a patient can transmit enough information to a doctor or nurse in a remote location to get a preliminary diagnosis, and to find out whether the condition warrants a trip to the clinic or not. "In developing countries, 80 percent of all physicians are in urban areas," while most of the people live in the countryside, according to Moca team member Richard Lu, an MIT graduate student in biomedical informatics.

A GSM Association study conducted by Deloitte and Touche in 2007 estimated that the mobile industry created 220,000 high-paying jobs in Pakistan and accounted for 5% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and approximately 6% of the total taxes collected by the Central Board of Revenue. The study also found that Pakistan’s economy and society is benefiting from rising mobile phone usage and low tariffs, which lowers the cost of doing business and improves productivity, while helping families and friends to connect to each other at home and abroad.

Several studies by ICT4D researchers in Pakistan and other developing nations have concluded that the use of cell phones have helped reduce poverty and improve incomes of small vendors and service providers, such as beauticians, fishermen, taxi drivers, delivery people and small shopkeepers.

As the mobile broadband roll-out with WiMax, 3G and EVDO takes off in Pakistan, the mobile internet can become a reality, opening up vast opportunities for delivering more advanced capabilities for education, health care and business for the ordinary people. The availability of more powerful and inexpensive entry level smart phones and applications will help as well.

One example of telemedicine efforts is a Cisco project in Pakistan, where a trial combines satellite and WiMAX connectivity to mobile units to provide earlier cancer screening to rural patients.

Many critics and cynics have long dismissed the growing use of cell phones in Pakistan as just a waste of time and money. Based on the efforts of ICT4D believers, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the mobile phone in developing world could prove to be a an extremely useful tool providing a huge boost for human development, productivity and prosperity of the people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Related Links:

Poverty Reduction Through Telecom Access

Pakistan's Telecom Boom

Pakistan Tops Text Message Growth

WiMax Rollout in Pakistan

Mobile Internet in Pakistan

Low Literacy Threatens Pakistan's Future

Gender Gap in South Asia

Mobile Financial Services in Pakistan

Financial Services in Pakistan

Distance Learning in Pakistan

Top 5 ICT4D Trends in 2010

ICT4D in Pakistani Hospital

ITCN Asia 2010 Conference in Karachi

State of Telecom Industry in Pakistan


Riaz Haq said...

Here's the latest BMI research report on Pakistan's Telecom market:

BMI forecasts that the mobile sector will achieve a total of 98.558mn subscribers at the end of 2009, after the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority (PTA) and operators reported a total of 95.909mn subscribers in the market as of September 2009. Between YE08 and September 2009, the number of net additions totalled 6.002mn, which was significantly lower than the 13.339mn net additions in the YE07 to September 2008 period. Much of the difference is related to the government’s re-registration programme, as well as taxation on operators.
With the re-registration programme over, and operators involved in rebuilding their subscriber bases, BMI views growth of the mobile sector to continue over the next five years ended 2014. Operators such as Mobilink have focused their efforts on acquiring new subscribers, retaining the loyalty of existing subscribers, while also strengthening their brand image through key campaigns carried out during Independence Day and Eid. Second-ranked Telenor, which managed to overtake Ufone in Q209 and having previously been overtaken by the PTCL-owned mobile unit in Q308, has deployed attractive services such as its mobile banking, ‘easypaisa’, to encourage customers to its network.
The government has also reviewed the taxation policies in place on the mobile sector, and from which it gains a substantial chunk of its foreign direct investment (FDI) from. By strangling operators with higher taxes, it came to the realisation that neither operators, customers or the government would benefit. As of July 1 2009, the government reduced federal excise duty on mobile usage to 19.5% from 21%, as well as reduced the new SIM activation tax from PKR500 to PKR250. This is certainly good news and should help to build up the sector.
Furthermore, we have also noted that the PTA has sought to introduce MVNOs to the market. The licence fees have been set at US$5mn each. There appears to be little interest so far, given that there are no fewer than six operators, with competition between them particularly aggressive. Indeed, press reports report rumours of consolidation in the market, pointing to Telenor as a potential purchaser of Warid Telecom, although the Norwegian operator has denied the comments. It is not the first time, however, that talk of consolidation has occurred in the sector.
Meanwhile, we continue to witness the encouraging growth of the broadband market in Pakistan, breaking the half a million barrier in September 2009. This is being largely driven by the WiMAX technology, which has been rising at a faster rate than DSL, FTTH or EV-DO. With two-thirds of the Pakistani population residing in rural areas where there is a shortage of fixed lines, the need for wireless alternatives is clearly on the rise. In view of this, the government should accelerate the award of 3G licences, which had been expected in 2009, but is now expected in 2010.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's IEMR research report forecasting 135 million mobile phone subscribers in Pakistan by 2014:

(M2 PressWIRE Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Vancouver, -- IE Market Research Corp. (IEMR), the Canadian-based provider of market intelligence services, announced today the release of its 1Q.2010 Pakistan Mobile Operator Forecast, 2009 - 2014.

"The wireless penetration rate is still low in Pakistan at approximately 60% in 2009, and we expect that the country's wireless market will continue to show strong growth. Our model forecasts that total mobile subscribers in Pakistan will increase from 96 million in 2009 to 134.8 million in 2014," said Nizar Assanie, Vice President (Research) at IEMR. "Mobilink will continue to be the largest player in Pakistan's mobile operator space over the next five years. We expect that Mobilink will have 36 million mobile subscribers in 2014. Also, given the latest quarter numbers, our model predicts that Ufone will have 25.8 million, Telenor will have 29 million, and Warid will have 25.3 million mobile subscribers by the end of 2014." "ARPU levels remain low in Pakistan's mobile operator space. We expect that the industry average ARPU will remain in the range of US$ 2 - US$ 3 over the next five years. Our model predicts that, in 2014, Mobilink's monthly ARPU will be at highest among operators at US$ 2.64. The operator with the lowest monthly ARPU will be Warid Telecom with US$ 1.67 in 2014," said Mr. Assanie.

IEMR's Pakistan Mobile Operator Forecast covers up to 50 financial and operational metrics on wireless operators in Pakistan - Mobilink (Pakistan Mobile Communications Limited), Ufone GSM, China Mobile Ltd. (Zong, formerly Paktel), Instaphone, Telenor ASA, and Warid Telecom International. Notable highlights of the 1Q10 Pakistan Mobile Operator Forecast include: * In terms of shares of total subscribers, we expect that Mobilink's market share will decline over the next five years, from 30% in 2009 to 26.7% in 2014. On the other hand, we expect China Mobile Pakistan's market share to increase from 8% in 2009 to 13.7% in 2014. We also forecast that market shares at Ufone, Telenor, and Warid will be approximately 19.2%, 21.6% and 18.8% respectively in 2014.

* Given the excellent performance by Norway's Telenor in Pakistan's wireless market in the recent past, our model forecasts that its EBITDA margin (calculated as EBITDA / reported revenue) will be increasing from about 23% in 2009 to 35% in 2014. On the other hand, we think that Mobilink will maintain its EBITDA margin of approximately 35% over the forecast period, 2010 - 2014.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting excerpt from a piece about the use of technology in Pakistan written for CNET by a visiting Pakistani tech journalist Zamir Haider at Stanford University:

According to the Ministry of Finance's Economic Survey of Pakistan for fiscal 2005-2006, computer use in urban households is high. In comparison with the literacy rate--53 percent--at least 40 percent of Pakistanis are computer literate or have access to computers.

Mostly, these are Pentium II or Pentium III PCs, since laptops are expensive. PCs are now widely available at good prices, thanks to Chinese computers flooding the markets. Most of these machines are not big brands, but they do say "Intel Inside." As for laptops, they come from various brands like Dell, Toshiba, Compaq, Sony and Apple. Wireless Internet connections, on the other hand, are still rare.

Dialing up through the phone lines
In Pakistan, 99 percent of Internet connections are still over phone lines. Wi-Fi is generally seen only at five-star hotels and now at a few restaurants. People at home usually use Internet cards of various denominations starting from 10 rupees per hour (16 cents) to 100 rupees per 10 hours ($1.60). Connection speeds through Internet cards are generally poor.

Getting permanent Internet connections from an Internet service provider is expensive, but most businesses do get connections from these companies.

Mobile phones are the most common form of personal technology seen in Pakistan. Connecting to the Internet through mobile phones is getting popular now, but it probably will still take another a year or more to be as popular as it is here in California.

People here are excited about the coming of the Apple iPhone. That's what I hear people talking about when I go to any of the mobile phone outlets in San Francisco.

In Pakistan, people aren't that much different when it comes to mobile phones. They're fond of buying expensive cell phones not for technology purposes alone, but also largely to show off.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report about Brookings finding that madrassas are not a major threat in Pakistan:

Islamic schools - or madrassas - in Pakistan are not stoking militancy or extremism, a report by a leading US think-tank has concluded.

The Brookings Institution report says that while religious schools are often cited as a cause of extremism, they "appear not to be a major risk factor".

The report says that fewer than 10% of Pakistani students attended madrassas.

It says that the real cause of militancy in the country is the poor public education system.
Urgent priority

Report co-author Rebecca Winthrop, a Brookings fellow, said that number of militant madrassas was not increasing.

She said that most Pakistani parents preferred not to send their children to school at all rather than to enrol them in madrassas.

"We do need to take the militant madrassa issue very seriously," she said at the launch of the report.

"We should really leave the question of the role of Islam in the Pakistan education system to the Pakistanis to debate. This is not something that I think is fruitful if outsiders - us here in the US - start weighing in on."

The study found that the most urgent priority was to increase the supply of schools in Pakistan, where a literacy rate of 56% is among the lowest outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

The researchers said that low enrolment rates were "a risk factor for violence" and that demand for education inside Pakistan "far exceeded the government's ability to provide it".

Furthermore, Pakistan's public school system was "highly corrupt" with teaching positions handed out in return for political favours and teachers paid regardless or whether they turned up for work or not.

"The way the education system is set up is contributing to support militancy," said Ms Winthrop.

"Historically education in Pakistan has been used as a tool by successive regimes in pursuing narrow political ends."

She said that the curriculum and teaching methods in public schools promoted the dissemination of intolerant views and did not prepare students in their search for employment.

The report said that this turn frustrated youngsters and increased the pool of militant recruits.

"The almost exclusive focus on madrassas as a security challenge - which is especially prevalent in the west - needs to be corrected," the report said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story about the promise of Danish Schools, a series of boarding schools being set up in Pakistani Punjab by the provincial govt of chief minister Sahbaz Sharif for the poor as an alteranative to the madrassa system:

Outside the window, a Pakistani flag flutters, inside, a teacher asks a group of 6th-grader girls and boys, “Who can make a food chain?” A girl comes up to the board and uses a pen as a mouse to click and drag an animated plant to the first box, a worm to the second and a bird to the third. “Excellent,” Says the teacher. She goes and sits down with a smile on her face.

This is not an ordinary board, it’s a smart board, the first of its kind in Pakistan, and this is no ordinary school. Inaugurated January 18th, The Danish School System at Rahim Yar Khan stands in stark contrast to the rural terrain of this Southern Punjab city. Children enrolled in this school have to fit a certain criteria, not just that they have to pass an entry test, but they have to either have a missing parent, or both parents, they have to have an illiterate parent and they must have a monthly income of less than USD 100 - they must belong in short to the forgotten class of Pakistan’s poor and minorities.

This is affirmative action, giving the underprivileged a chance to have a level playing field. But how real is it? For one, it has the clear support of the government of Punjab which has faced severe criticism from all quarters about the surge of 25 billion rupees invested in a series of these purpose-built campuses for both girls and boys all over Punjab. These critics claim that money could have been better spent elsewhere on better alternatives like building roads or canals.
The Danish Schools stands as an alternative to madrassa education because the school provides free lodging and boarding to all its students. It not only gives students a rounded education in the sciences and the arts but also provides social and extracurricular exposure. An on call psychologist also monitors each of the student’s behavior and has counseling sessions with the children and their parent or gurdian for a smooth transition into boarding life.

Despite the challenges, there is a certain spark and energy in the entire Danish school core committee headed by LUMS Provost, Dr Zafar Iqbal Qureshi, and the teachers and students. At the inaugural ceremony, one child danced on Shakira’s Waka Waka, another child, Aasia Allah-Wasiah told a 500 odd gathering the story of her life, how she became an orphan and how Danish school was her only hope for a future.

Not all parents were this easily convinced of Danish School’s objectives. One asked the girls’ school principle, “Why would you give me back my child after giving her clothes and shoes and spending so much on her? I know this is a conspiracy to buy our children from us.”

Other parents objected to there being non-Muslim students eating in the same utensils. The management responded by saying “we all eat in the same plates as any Hindu or Christian boy because this school is for everyone equally.” Needless to say that Rahim Yar Khan, despite scattered industrial units is largely agrarian and the people are deeply influenced by the exclusivist brand of Wahabism.
With a meager amount of the GDP being spent on education, it is a positive sign to have politicians finally focus on this sector to secure their vote bank. With time the criticism towards these initiatives, such as the importance of Danish schools adopting the O-Levels system, may fine tune the programs into being more effective for the people. And especially those people who don’t have a voice.

Riaz Haq said...

The best way to subvert the status quo and spark a revolution is to invest in girl's education, argues Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine:

We know what the birth of a revolution looks like: A student stands before a tank. A fruit seller sets himself on fire. A line of monks link arms in a human chain. Crowds surge, soldiers fire, gusts of rage pull down the monuments of tyrants, and maybe, sometimes, justice rises from the flames.

But sometimes freedom and opportunity slip in through the back door, when a quieter subversion of the status quo unleashes change that is just as revolutionary. This is the tantalizing idea for activists concerned with poverty, with disease, with the rise of violent extremism: if you want to change the world, invest in girls.

In recent years, more development aid than ever before has been directed at women--but that doesn't mean it is reaching the girls who need it. Across much of the developing world, by the time she is 12, a girl is tending house, cooking, cleaning. She eats what's left after the men and boys have eaten; she is less likely to be vaccinated, to see a doctor, to attend school. "If only I can get educated, I will surely be the President," a teenager in rural Malawi tells a researcher, but the odds are against her: Why educate a daughter who will end up working for her in-laws rather than a son who will support you? In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than 1 in 5 girls make it to secondary school. Nearly half are married by the time they are 18; 1 in 7 across the developing world marries before she is 15. Then she gets pregnant. The leading cause of death for girls 15 to 19 worldwide is not accident or violence or disease; it is complications from pregnancy. Girls under 15 are up to five times as likely to die while having children than are women in their 20s, and their babies are more likely to die as well.......
A more surprising army is being enlisted as well. A new initiative called Girl Up aims to mobilize 100,000 American girls to raise money and awareness to fight poverty, sexual violence and child marriage. "This generation of 12-to-18-year-olds are all givers," says executive director Elizabeth Gore, the force of nature behind the ingeniously simple Nothing but Nets campaign to fight malaria, about her new United Nations Foundation enterprise. "They gave after Katrina. They gave after the tsunami and Haiti. More than any earlier generation, they feel they know girls around the world."

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an Express Tribune report on rural female literacy increase contributing to higher literacy rate in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD: The quest for knowledge in rural areas, particularly in females, compensated for the declining trend of getting an education in cities, according to the Pakistan Labour Force survey.

In 2009-10 the literacy rate in Pakistan marginally increased to 57.7 per cent due to an increase in the literacy ratio of females in rural areas. During the preceding year the literacy rate was 57.4 per cent. The male literacy rate stood at 69.5 per cent while it was 45.2 per cent for females.

According to the official definition, the literacy rate is that percentage of the population ten years and above which is able to read and write in any language.

Though more than half of the rural population is illiterate, the ratio improved by over half a percentage point to 49.2 per cent by June 30, 2010 due to an increasing number of women and girls who can read and write. The female literacy ratio improved to 34.2 per cent, a progress of 0.8 per cent in a year. In rural areas, the 63.6 per cent male literacy rate improved by only 0.4 per cent in comparison. The literacy rate in urban areas marginally declined due to a dip in the number of men who qualify as literate. The urban literacy ratio decreased 0.1 per cent to 73.2 per cent, due to a fractional reduction in the male literacy rate. At present more than eight out of ten urban males are educated but the ratio is below that of 2008-09.

The provincial literacy rates also depict interesting trends. In Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the number of educated people increased, while it decreased in Sindh. The figure remained stagnant in Balochistan at 51.5 per cent. Punjab turned out to be the most educated province, followed by Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber -Pakhtunkhwa.

In Sindh the percentage of educated people dropped by one per cent to 58.2 per cent in 2009-10. The declining ratios were witnessed across the divide, rural, urban, females and males. Contrary to that in Punjab the literacy rate increased to 59.6 per cent. Over half of the rural population is literate and the urban literacy ratio stood at almost three-fourth in the province.

In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa the literacy rate increased to 50.9 per cent, a progress of almost one per cent. The rural literacy rate increased to 48.4 per cent but the urban literacy dipped by 0.4 per cent. The urban literacy rate increased while the rural literacy rate declined.

In terms of level of education, near four out of ten literate people are not even matriculates. Another one out of ten is below intermediate, the survey reveals. Only 4.7 per cent of the total literate population has cleared intermediate but not bachelor’s and just 4.3 per cent have a bachelor’s or above. Even today over four out of ten Pakistanis are illiterate according to official figures.

Riaz Haq said...

UN World Food Program's initiative to provide free food and cooking oil to school children is persuading poor families to send their daughters to school in Pakistan, according to a news report:

The program has already noted success in a 62% increase in girls' attendance in the last decade.

"This is really a big help. In these times when things are so expensive, receiving [cooking] oil free of charge is a real bonus," Fareeda Bibi mentioned while placing the four-litre fortified oil tin by her tiny stove.

A tin of oil costs Rs 450 [US$5.5], and Fareeda needs at least three a month to cook for her family of eight.

"My husband earns Rs 5,000 [$61] a month as a carpenter, so our budget is tight. Over Rs 1,000 [$12.2] goes towards utility bills; we spend nearly 2,500 [$30.5] on food and then there are new shoes to be bought for the children or medical bills to pay for my parents-in-law. Every little bit that comes in free in such hard times is a bonus."

Fareeda's daughter Shama receives the oil at her school in Dera Ghazi Khan District in Pakistan's Punjab Province every month as part of a UN World Food Programme (WFP) operation run in conjunction with the government.

"The incentive is mainly to increase enrolment and keep the girls in school. The assistance is only given in girls' primary schools in Punjab. However, in NWFP [North West Frontier Province], Balochistan and Sindh, we have included boys as well," said Amjad Jamal, a WFP spokesman.

The programme had increased girls' enrolment by 25% and attendance by 62%
since 1998, said Marcelo Spinahering of WFP Pakistan. "Children are given high energy biscuits for onsite feeding in certain parts of the country. For the most part they receive take-home rations of four litres of fortified edible oil on a monthly basis and 50kg of wheat on a quarterly basis," he added.

Attitudes changing?

Fareeda said the school feeding programme had also played a part in persuading male members of her family to allow Shama to go to school, just like her two brothers.

"When they say there is no need to educate girls because they will never need to earn a living, I point out the oil we receive helps us run the house, and then they fall silent," Fareeda said, adding: "Of course it is very important to us that our daughter is being educated. I am not literate and this handicaps me."

Noor Bibi, the mother of another young schoolgirl said: "Even though we pay no fees at government schools, my husband says we spend too much on uniforms and books." The oil bonus helps 'balance' this, and she hopes to double the gains in a few years time when her two-year-old daughter is enrolled.

Fozia Hina, deputy district officer for Dera Ghazi Khan sub-district, said: "In areas such as ours, which is largely underdeveloped, parents do not like sending girls out of the house, even to school. Traditionally girls do not leave the home of their parents or husbands. Since the [cooking] oil incentive began several years ago more parents are eager to enrol kids. Mothers are keen to enrol even four-year-old girls."...

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting World Bank blog post on use of sms in learning:

The team in Pakistan is asking all sorts of interesting questions as part of their work. How can the potential impact of each message be maximized, especially given that these messages constitute just one small part of a large stream of messages -- cricket scores, notes from friends and family, jokes, news items, scripture passages and horoscope advice -- that students receive every day? What is best learned or reinforced through such interactions? What are the most effective ways to sequence and scaffold such messages over time?

In the process, much user-related information is being collected, helping to answer some basic questions for which there are not yet good, reliable data:

How many young students have phones?

How many can afford to participate in education-related activities via mobile phone -- and are willing to do so?
(Related to this: Are there ways to subsidize SMS traffic for various populations? And what if people actual respond to the SMS quizzes -- can this sort of thing at scale?)

Vocabulary-building and grammar quizzes are just two potential applications possible as part of this sort of SMS-based interaction; opportunities for quizzes in various academic areas are easily imagined. This could be great for test preparation, for example -- a potentially fertile market for private firms in Pakistan. Indeed, project proponents hope to use this as a way to help to stimulate private sector activity and innovation in this area, especially for young entrepreneurs, given what have turned out to be very low piloting costs.

The software they are using for all of this is home grown; the hope is to eventually open source it so that others interested in doing this sort of thing don't have to start from scratch. (Similar efforts are underway in other parts of the world -- FrontlineSMS:Learn has been piloted in neighboring Afghanistan, to cite just one example.)

In addition to the potential utility of the messages themselves, the people behind this project see potential value in establishing a 'relationship' between government and its constituents and key stakeholders. Are there possibilities here for government to learn using SMS, they wonder? If a relationship via test message is established during schooling between students and education authorities, can government remain engaged with students after graduation, continuing to provide targeted informal education services as might be useful?

As my World Bank colleague Zubair Khurshid Bhatti notes, "Engagement with student and parents is critical for improved governance of the tertiary education sector. Governance possibilities are also huge for primary and secondary schools, where very large percentages of parents and school committee members have access to phones. This project starts to put in place some of the architecture to help support interactive targeted communication with the real beneficiaries."

Based on early returns from the pilot, the Provincial Education Department of the Government of the Punjab is showing active interest in exploring these sorts of activities further, and the project principals are already planning to expand the scope of their activities. Why not try sending SMSs to parents, they ask, challenging them to pose a question to their children, based on something that was meant to be on the curriculum for that week? This would, in a very small, modest way, alert parents to what students are supposed to be learning. If students don't know the answer, this may trigger parents to push their kids more, and/or to question whether the school is doing a good job in this area (including whether or not the official curriculum is being followed at all!).

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a UKPA story of a Pakistani innovators harnessing the Internet for the poor:

One of the world's top young technology innovators is working to bring internet-style networking to millions of Pakistanis who don't have access to the web.

Umar Saif's efforts, which centre around giving ordinary citizens new ways to use a basic mobile phone, recently earned him recognition by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The trigger for his research was a 2005 earthquake in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir that killed 80,000 people and caused widespread destruction. The disaster coincided with his return to Pakistan after getting a PhD in computer science from the University of Cambridge.

Realising that rescue workers were having trouble co-ordinating, Saif, 32, devised a computer program that allowed people to send a text message - or SMS - to thousands of people at once. Users send a text to a specific phone number to sign up for the program, and then can message all the subscribers, allowing users to engage in the kind of social networking possible on the internet.

It has since blossomed into a commercial enterprise called SMS-all that is used by at least 2.5 million people who have sent nearly four billion text messages.

"You can do the sorts of things that we do on Facebook and Twitter," said Saif, now an associate professor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The company generates revenue by charging a small amount for each message. Saif has expanded the service to Iraq and Nigeria by working with telecommunication companies there.

Roughly 20 million Pakistanis use the internet, about 11% of the country's total population of 187 million. But there are more than 108 million Pakistani mobile phone subscribers.

"The thing to do is to bring whatever you have on the internet on the phone lines, because that is what gets used the most," said Saif.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Daily Times piece on linking BISP to primary schooling of children:

The cash transfer under the scheme would be linked with school-going children of beneficiary families. The scheme will be the latest addition in the various innovative measures of BISP, including demand driven vocational/technical training along with the provision of micro-financing to ensure livelihood independence for millions of beneficiary families.

Analysis of the data collected through a nationwide poverty survey by BISP reveals that primary education of beneficiaries’ children is one of the major issues of the poor class in Pakistan. A careful evaluation of the data revealed that only 17 percent of BISP beneficiaries send all of their children (between the age of 4 to 10 years) to school, 27 percent of them send some of their children to school, whereas 56 percent do not send any of their children to school. In terms of numbers, more than 5 million children of BISP beneficiaries, between the ages of 4 to 10 years, do not attend any school. The future of millions of these children is in our hands; we can make them productive citizens in the world by providing them with decent educational opportunities; otherwise, sans education, they would become nothing but an easy prey for the cruel forces of extremism, intolerance and terrorism, which are unfortunately competing with the forces of reason in our country.\10\22\story_22-10-2011_pg7_20

Riaz Haq said...

UNESCO expands mobile phone literacy program in Pakistan:

The project, the fruit of a partnership between UNESCO, Mobilink Pakistan and Pakistani NGO, the BUNYAD Foundation of Lahore, was launched last year.

The five-month pilot project involved 250 adolescent female learners who were given mobile phones and who received interesting and informative daily text messages in Urdu which they were expected to respond to. The programme was conducted with the help of 10 teachers enlisted by the NGO.

Participants were subsequently evaluated to assess gains in knowledge and learning. At the start of the programme, 57per cent of the girls were graded C and only 28 per cent of the girls managed to score an A. Near the end of the pilot the situation had reversed with more than 60 per cent of girls awarded an A and C grades dropping to 11 per cent.

UNESCO and partners have expanded the programme to include another 1,250 girls in rural areas of four districts of Punjab.

Warren Mellor, Country Director UNESCO said that modern technology could help achieve the goal of universal literacy. He said Pakistan was a signatory to the Dakar Framework of Action for EFA in April, 2000 and has committed to achieving an 86 per cent literacy rate by 2015.

Mr Rashid Khan, President and CEO of Mobilink, said those taking part had shown a marked improvement in their literacy skills and confidence.

“The cell phone holds the key to social development by its very nature and we want to make sure that women are part of this revolution,” he said.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a GSM study on how mobile phones are helping boost rural health in Pakistan:

Mobilink partnered up with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),
Ministry of Health (MoH) and GSMA Development Fund to deliver an
innovative pilot project which aims to bring low cost mobile handsets and
shared access to voice (PCOs) to LHWs in remote parts of the country.
Mobilink hopes to bridge the communication gap between the LHW and their
ability to access emergency health care.

Mobilink and its stakeholders are eager to
demonstrate how mobile phones play a
critical role in maternal care resulting in
better healthcare of patients. In order to
address the lack of connectivity to basic
health services and reduce maternal and
infant mortality; LHWs are being provided
with a communication tool for timely
referral of patients to seven (7) points of
connectivity i.e. Assistant District Coordinator
(ADC), Lady Health Supervisor (LHS),
District Health Quarter (DHQ), Tehsil Head
Quarter (THQ), Rural Health Center (RHC),
Ambulance Driver and 24/7 Private Hospital.
The project is being piloted in the districts of
Chakwal and Muzaffargarh in the Province
of Punjab. These districts were identified by
the Ministry of Health (MoH) with technical
assistance from UNFPA.
The pilot project for the LHWs includes a
low-cost phone bundled with a prepaid
SIM card and a Mobilink PCO. The solution
is to roll-out the Mobilink PCO (Option
1) in Chakwal and low cost Nokia handset
(Option 2) in Muzaffargarh to 242 LHWs.
In addition, desktop phones with prepaid
SIM cards are provided to each DHQ, THQ
and RHC. This intervention is improving
communication for timely referral of patients
and allowing the Lady Health Supervisors
to monitor the activities of LHWs more
efficiently. Additionally, the Mobilink PCO is
providing an extra source of income for the
LHW, empowering women and improving
their status amongst communities.

The Potential Impacts…
Improving LHWs communication ability so
delays in accessing emergency healthcare are
100,000 LHWs can • cover a population
of 15 million households potentially
impacting the lives of 90 million people
all across Pakistan and achieving
universal health coverage in rural areas
across the country.
• For the pilot project, approx. 250,000
LHW catchment population in more than
45 villages benefit from this solution for
general healthcare.
• For the pilot project, approx. 40,000
married women of child bearing age
and 10,000 pregnant ladies for maternal
and neonatal health care get immediate
attention through the LHW.
• The solution provides a timely
deduction/referral of cases via the
effective use of mobile technology to
reduce maternal and neonatal mortality
• LHWs have a positive impact upon the
economic stability and well-being of the
community that she serves.
• Mobile communications improve the
status, mobility and equality of women
– as a Lady Health Worker and as a
Village Phone operator.
• LHW, through the Mobilink PCO earn
an additional source of income resulting
in women empowerment, and increase
in social status.
• LHW act as a role model for other women
in their community.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Dawn report on the airing of the first episode of Sim Sim Humara in Pakistan:

The first episode of the Pakistan Children Television’s programme “Sim Sim Hamara”, an educational and capacity-building TV series for children, will be aired on Dec 10 at national TV.

The TV series will be a high-quality early education resource for a large number of children who lack access to formal education opportunities.

“Sim Sim Hamara” is the Pakistani adaptation of the engaging programme “Sesame Street”, created by Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop in collaboration with Sesame Workshop, New York, and funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The theatre group will create a total of 130 episodes of the “Sim Sim Hamra” broadcast on PTV Home.

Seventy-eight of these episodes will be produced in Urdu and 52 in national languages. The first episode will be aired at 5:30pm on Dec 10 and the repeat telecast will be at 9:30am next day. The moving spirit behind the project, Faizan Pirzada told Dawn that “along with language and numeracy skills, this new educational show will promote basic life skills, healthy habits, mutual respect and love for learning. The show’s locally-developed puppet stars include Rani, a six-year old school girl with a keen interest in natural sciences and a love of reading, Munna, a five-year old boy with big dreams and a flair for mathematics and numbers, Baily, a fluffy, hardworking donkey who aspires to be a pop star, Baji, a colourful, spirited woman with a passion for food, family, fun and tradition, and Haseen-o-Jameel, a crocodile who has a wonderful way with words, rhymes and songs.”

Throwing light on the background of the project, one of the heads of the PC TV, Faizan Pirzada said Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop, in collaboration with Sesame Workshop, held a national content seminar and four provincial workshops to gather educational advisers from various fields to provide direction for the educational framework for the Pakistan Children’s Television project.

He said the participants included representatives from both regional and federal government entities, academicians, performing artists, civil society members working with children, representatives from Sesame Workshop, USAID and the federal education secretary.

He said there’s a need to impress upon children and families the fact that learning happens in both formal and non-formal environments. PC television is using authentic examples from the real world, such as observing a family member count change at the grocery store, weighing produce on scales at the vegetable market, reading prayers from the Holy Quran and other holy texts, and measuring ingredients for ‘roti’ as a basis for storylines and materials that promote a lifelong love of learning.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a report in The Nation about the use of mobile phones to deliver teacher training and resources:

ISLAMABAD - Nokia and UNESCO Islamabad have launched “Mobile Learning Project for Teacher’s Professional Development” on Thursday as formal collaboration took place in the presence of senior government officials, Nokia and UNESCO representatives.
As part of this programme, UNESCO and Nokia are joining hands, where Nokia is providing a technology solution known as Nokia Education Delivery to the UNESCO project ‘use of ICT for professional development of public school teachers’ in remote areas.
In Pakistan, through the project, Nokia will help UNESCO to enable the delivery of high- quality educational materials to teachers who lack training and resources.
Through mobile phones teachers will be given an opportunity to train themselves. Nokia developed the Nokia Education Delivery programme to allow using a mobile phone to access and download videos and other educational materials from a constantly updated education library.
Speaking about the project, UNESCO Director, Kozue Kai Nagata said, “In 21st century public-private partnerships are enjoying growing attention and support as a new and sustainable modality for development.
We are confident to collaborate with Nokia to provide us with the best platform to train public school teachers. Nokia Education Delivery programme is fit to match our need of delivering quality training to a large number of public school teachers across Pakistan through the project named “Mobile Learning for Teachers”.
Amir Jahangir, President AGAHI and a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, shared his views on the launch that “Pakistan is a knowledge starved country, where universal education has its own challenges. To meet the target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) on education, Pakistan needs to address its education challenges through innovation and technology which can reach to a larger population with cost effective solutions”.
This unique pilot project for Pakistan has been initiated by UNESCO and AGAHI while Nokia Pakistan will enable the project implementation by providing not just Nokia devices but a complete solution via its Nokia Education Delivery programme.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Brookings Inst paper on mobile phones are helping increase female literacy in Pakistan:

In the small village of Hafizibad in Pakistan’s Punjab province, a young girl is using her mobile phone to send an SMS message in Urdu to her teacher. After sending, she receives messages from her teacher in response, which she diligently copies by hand in her notebook to practice her writing skills. She does this from the safety of her home, and with her parents’ permission, during the school break, which is significant due to the insecurity of the rural region in which she lives. The girl is part of a Mobilink-UNESCO program to increase literacy skills among girls in Pakistan. Initial outcomes look positive; after four months, the percentage of girls who achieved an A level on literacy examinations increased from 27 percent to 54 percent. Likewise, the percentage of girls who achieved a C level on examinations decreased from 52 percent to 15 percent. The power of mobile phone technology, which is fairly widespread in Pakistan, appears in this case to help hurdle several education barriers by finding new ways to support learning for rural girls in insecure areas—girls who usually have limited opportunities to attend school and who frequently do not receive individual attention when they do. Often they live in households with very few books or other materials to help them retain over summer vacation what they learned during the school year.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an interesting excerpt of a World Bank blog on cell phone use in education in Pakistan:

In Pakistan, some innovative folks are exploring how basic text messaging (SMS) can be used in the education sector to the benefit of people with even very low end mobile phones, leveraging the increasing high teledensities found in communities across the country.

What's happening in Pakistan in this regard? A lot, it turns out, although admittedly only in pockets and at a rather modest scale to date. The country is perhaps not unique in what is being explored (most everything being tried there is being tried in various other places as well), but that doesn't mean it isn't quite interesting. For example:

In February, almost 150 third year students at Asghar Mall College in Rawalapindi (note: 'third year' in this context would be the rough equivalent of the first year at university in, for example, the United States) for whom authorities had mobile phone numbers on file began participating on a voluntary basis in a daily vocabulary quiz exercise delivered by SMS. These young men -- from middle to lower middle class backgrounds -- are sent a simple multiple choice question. Texts are addressed to each student individually, using the equivalent of a 'mail merge' function that will be familiar to anyone who has had to send out 'blast' emails or faxes). They reply via SMS, and then receive an automated response, based on their answer. In this response, their answer is repeated, a notation is made about whether the answer given was correct or not, and the correct answer is incorporated into a sample sentence.
One thing perhaps that is worth mentioning here is that, for some of these students, who have been educated in a system where very large, lecture-based classes are the norm, this may be the first time they have received 'personalized' feedback of any sort from their instructors.

The team in Pakistan is asking all sorts of interesting questions as part of their work. How can the potential impact of each message be maximized, especially given that these messages constitute just one small part of a large stream of messages -- cricket scores, notes from friends and family, jokes, news items, scripture passages and horoscope advice -- that students receive every day? What is best learned or reinforced through such interactions? What are the most effective ways to sequence and scaffold such messages over time?

In the process, much user-related information is being collected, helping to answer some basic questions for which there are not yet good, reliable data:

How many young students have phones?

How many can afford to participate in education-related activities via mobile phone -- and are willing to do so?
(Related to this: Are there ways to subsidize SMS traffic for various populations? And what if people actual respond to the SMS quizzes -- can this sort of thing at scale?)

Vocabulary-building and grammar quizzes are just two potential applications possible as part of this sort of SMS-based interaction; opportunities for quizzes in various academic areas are easily imagined. This could be great for test preparation, for example -- a potentially fertile market for private firms in Pakistan. Indeed, project proponents hope to use this as a way to help to stimulate private sector activity and innovation in this area, especially for young entrepreneurs, given what have turned out to be very low piloting costs.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an excerpt from Express Tribune on rapid growth of mobile banking in Pakistan:

Sharing statistics of SBP, Anwar said value of branchless banking transactions reached Rs79,410 million during the last quarter. Total number of branchless banking accounts have increased to 929,184, he said, while branchless banking deposits have grown to Rs503 million.

SBP introduced branchless banking regulations in 2008. He further said around 80 million branchless banking transactions of Rs300 billion have been executed in Pakistan. “I am expecting a surge in the number of access points to over 50,000 very soon,” he said. Total volume (number) of transactions has jumped to 20.6 million during the October to December 2011, Anwar said. The average number daily transactions has increased to 228,855, he added.

The average size of branchless banking transactions, Anwar said, is Rs3,855 which shows that mobile phone technology and agent-based banking are providing financial services to unbanked poor.

While talking about the benefits of branchless banking, he said, rural customers will no longer be required to travel long distances. He further said a large proportion of population – which is unbanked – has been heavily reliant on cash-based transactions, thus causing a negative impact on documentation of the economy, the tax-base, efficiency of economic transactions, etc.

Representatives of the world’s leading software providers gave detailed presentations and discussed case studies on how mobile banking has succeeded in other emerging as well as developed markets.

Mobile banking is the only way forward, said Mathew Talbot, Senior Vice President, Mobile Commerce Sybase 365 – which was recently acquired by SAP. Pakistan is one of the fastest developing markets for branchless banking in the world, he said, which is why Sybase is here.

Sybase provides technologies to banks, which enable the latter to have full control of their bank accounts and make transactions through mobile device regardless of their location. It creates opportunities for bringing the unbanked and under-banked segments of the society into the financial network.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's Daily Times on plans to expand open schooling in Pakistan:

Canada-based Commonwealth of Learning (COL) and Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU) have agreed on a draft plan to launch open-schooling system in Pakistan for achieving millennium goals, ensuring universal education by the year 2015.

The main features of the draft plan were explained at a presentation given by COL consultant Dr Tony Dodds at the AIOU’s headquarters. The COL was created by commonwealth heads of governments to encourage development and sharing of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies. Core funding comes from voluntary contributions from member governments in which Canada is the largest contributor. Under the proposed plan, an Institute of Open Schooling and Lifelong Learning will be established at the AIOU to impart education at primary, middle and higher secondary levels throughout Pakistan through distance and open-learning system. The system has already been successfully tested in many other countries, including the UK, India, Namibia and Tanzania, to successful overcome illiteracy. AIOU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Nazir Ahmed Sangi, on the occasion, said that open schooling system would be a milestone in achieving the millennium goals. The plan, he said, will be implemented in consultation and cooperation of provincial governments and other federal government institutions. The AIOU was looking forward to act as facilitator and coordinator in fighting illiteracy at all levels.

He said the university had the required capacity and academic potential for developing necessary curriculum and other parameters to implement the plan in its true spirit. Mukhtar Hussain Talpur, AIOU Bureau of University Extension and Special Programmes director, said the proposed plan would provide a roadmap for upgrading literacy at all levels in the country, particularly in the far-flung and less-developed regions.

He said the AIOU would be seeking support from relevant institutions from home and abroad to achieve the desired objectives. An NGO, Plan International, has already provided Rs 18.4 million to the AIOU to promote primary and post-primary education in the country. Dr Dodds explained that through the open and distance learning millions of Pakistanis, currently outside the formal educational system, would have access to opportunities to undertake organised educational activities at pre-tertiary level which would improve the quality of their lives.

The AIOU will develop a wide-range of educational courses at post-literary pre-tertiary level and set up effective open learning structures and system for those young and adult people who are currently outside the formal and non-formal education system...\04\06\story_6-4-2012_pg11_3

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC story on an experiment involving slum children learning to use computers on their own:

(Prof Mitra) has watched the children teach themselves - and others - how to use the machines and gather information.
Professor Mitra's work began (in 1999) when he was working for a software company and decided to embed a computer in the wall of his office in Delhi that was facing a slum.

"The children barely went to school, they didn't know any English, they had never seen a computer before and they didn't know what the internet was."

To his surprise, the children quickly figured out how to use the computers and access the internet.

"I repeated the experiment across India and noticed that children will learn to do what they want to learn to do."

He saw children teaching each other how to use the computer and picking up new skills.

One group in Rajasthan, he said, learnt how to record and play music on the computer within four hours of it arriving in their village.

"At the end of it we concluded that groups of children can learn to use computers on their own irrespective of who or where they are," he said.

His experiments then become more ambitious and more global.

In Cambodia, for example, he left a simple maths game for children to play with.

"No child would play with it inside the classroom. If you leave it on the pavement and all the adults go away then they will show off to one another about what they can do," said Prof Mitra, who now works at Newcastle University in the UK.

He has continued his work in India.
Stress test

"I wanted to test the limits of this system," he said. "I set myself an impossible target: can Tamil speaking 12-year-olds in south India teach themselves biotechnology in English on their own?"

The researcher gathered 26 children and gave them computers preloaded with information in English.

"I told them: 'there is some very difficult stuff on this computer, I won't be surprised if you don't understand anything'."

Two months later, he returned.

Initially the children said they had not learnt anything, despite the fact that they used the computers everyday.

"Then a 12-year-old girl raised her hand and said 'apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA contributes to genetic disease - we've understood nothing else'."

Further experiment showed that having a person - known as "the granny figure" - stand behind the children and encourage them raised standards even higher.

Returning to the UK, he fine-tuned his method even further.

He gave groups of four children a computer each and set them a series of GCSE questions.

The groups were allowed to exchange information and swap members.

"The best group solved everything in 20 minutes, the worst in 45 minutes."

To prove that the children were learning, and not just skimming information off the web, he returned two months later and set the same questions. Crucially, this time the children had to answer them on their own with no computer aids.

"The average score when I did it with computers was 76%. When I did it without computers, the average score was 76% - they had near photographic recall."

Professor Mitra has now formalised the lessons from his experiments and has come up with a new concept for schools called SOLE (Self Organised Learning Environments).

These spaces consist of a computer with a bench big enough to let four children sit around the screen.

"It doesn't work if you give them each a computer individually," he said.

For his experiments he has also created a "granny cloud" - 200 volunteer grandmothers who can be called upon to video chat with the kids and provide encouragement..

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a story of WFP program take-home rations for school girls in Bajaur agency in FATA:

Taking turns to lug a heavy can of edible oil, Mushtari and Sheema Gul, twin sisters aged nine, trip home happily from their school in Ghareebabad village in Pakistan’s troubled Bajaur Agency.

“Our kitchen is run on this oil,” explains Sheema. The shiny cans are distributed in her school under World Food Programme (WFP)’s ‘Back to school, stay in school’ project launched as people began streaming back to the Bajaur after the Pakistan army completed flushing out Taliban militants from the agency in April 2011.

“Last year, as people displaced by the fighting began returning, we entered into an agreement with the WFP to launch the project,” Akramullah Shah, an official of Bajaur Agency’s education department, tells IPS.

From 2007 to 2009, when the Taliban held sway over Bajaur Agency, about 100,000 people fled for safety to makeshift camps. “During that period Taliban militants destroyed 107 schools and disrupted education services, affecting about 80,000 students,” Shah said.

With much of Bajaur’s infrastructure reduced to rubble and the mainstay of agriculture ruined, the returning residents had little to look forward to and were reluctant to take on the added burden of sending their children to school.

Ghufran Gul, father of Mushtari and Sheema, said he would not have been able to send his daughters to school but for the WFP programme of distributing edible oil and fortified biscuits. “The oil is tasty and people like to use it for making rotis (unleavened bread),” he said.

“We are happy. We sisters get the biscuits while the oil is used by the entire family,” said the Gul twins who study in grade three of the government girls’ high school in Bajaur.
“As soon as the Pakistan army had defeated the militants, we started reconstruction of damaged schools and launched programmes to encourage the students to return, ” Bajaur Agency lawmaker Akhunzada Muhammad Chittan told IPS.

According to Chittan, enrolment at the government-run primary schools had increased from 102,922 in 2010 to 1,320,876 by the end of June this year and was to improve further.

“Apart from providing free books and food items, relief organisations other than the WFP have been pitching in with purchased uniforms, shoes and teaching kits that are powerful incentives for parents to send their children to schools,” he said.

According to the 2008 census the literacy rate among the FATA’s 3.2 million population is just 22 percent, well below the national average of 56 percent.

A brief setback to the food distribution programme occurred in December 2010 when a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a WFP centre in the Bajaur, killing 45 people and injuring 80 others.

WFP spokesperson Amjad Jamal said the food assistance programme was due to run until the end of this year, but the U.N. agency has proposed that it should be allowed to continue until 2015.

“The main objectives of the programme are to protect children from hunger and motivate the parents to send their children back to schools to resume their education,” he said.

Except for the North Waziristan Agency, the WFP programme now covers the whole of the FATA and parts of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhthunkwa provinces.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Guardian report on increasing enrollment in Pakistan's FATA region:

Bajaur, one of the seven administrative units in Pakistan's federally administered tribal area (Fata), on the border with Afghanistan, has experienced a marked rise in school enrolment since the beginning of the year. "Enrolment has increased and this year we enrolled 39,000 new students," says Muhammad Gul, an education officer in Bajaur. "Yet 80,000 remain out of school."

Gul believes poverty and illiteracy can be a potent combination in fuelling extremism. "If these kids don't have a pen in their hands, they will grow up and take up the Kalashnikov," he says.

Part of the reason for the increased level of enrolment in the area is the return of families displaced by conflict in 2008-09. Around 250,000 people were still displaced from Bajaur at the end of 2009, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs. But for many the incentive is the ration of four litres of cooking oil (worth around £3, or just under $5) distributed every second month by the World Food Programme's (WFP) Back to School, Stay in School programme. To obtain the oil ration, students – who also receive locally manufactured high-energy biscuits daily from the WFP – must attend school 22 days each month.

The scheme was launched in January 2011 in Fata and all four provinces of Pakistan, but funding problems mean it is now limited to government-run schools in Fata (excluding North Waziristan, where the WFP is not working due to conflict). WFP spokesman Amjad Jamal says the programme has a two-pronged strategy: to address short-term hunger and nutritional deficiencies, and increase enrolment and retain those already in school. The WFP has been engaged in school feeding in Pakistan since 1968. Gul says that, of Bajaur's 616 schools, 435 (of which 135 are girls' schools) receive WFP help, benefiting 60,000 children. "Some areas are difficult to reach still and thus left out from the loop," he admits.

"We are seeking to make life easier for returnees by helping to ensure the provision of health and education," says Jamal. The NGO is supporting more than 990 schools, and 130,000 children take home the ration. The current programme ends in December, but will be renewed until 2015.

According to the International Crisis Group (pdf), there were around 4,660 primary schools, including 2,000 girls' schools, in Fata at the end of 2008. However, literacy remains low, and more than half of children who enrol in primary schools drop out before completing class five due to "poor quality of instruction, corporal punishment, teacher absenteeism, inaccessible locations and poorly maintained facilities, including shortages of furniture, clean drinking water and lavatories".

According to last year's national nutrition survey (pdf), 43.6% of Pakistani children under the age of five are stunted, 15.1% wasted, and 31.5% underweight. Approximately 32% are suffering from severe malnutrition, and 62.5% are anaemic.

Data collected by the directorate of education in Fata shows that, as of the end of March, 417 schools – including 133 for girls – had been blown up. Militants are still targeting educational institutions in the region, which is why parents are fearful of sending their children to school. However, Gul insists "poverty is a much bigger issue".

"Investing in the longer-term opportunities provided by education is not a consideration," Jamal says. And in tribal areas in particular, female education is seen as a wasted investment both economically and culturally.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BR report on telecom equipment imports in Pakistan:

The imports of various telecom products witnessed increase of 23.89 percent during the fiscal year 2011-12 as against the same period of the previous year.

The over all imports of telecom sector reached to US$1.268 billion during July-June (2011-12) against the imports of US$ 1.023 billion recorded during July-June (2010-11), according to data of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

Among the telecom sector, the highest increase of 31.63 was witnessed in mobile phones, imports of which increased from US$ 522.825 million to US$688.170 million, the PBS data revealed.

The imports of other telecom apparatus increased from US$500.712 million to US$579.899 million, showing increase of 15.81 percent.

Meanwhile, during the month of June 2012, the telecom imports increased by 13.04 percent as compared to the imports of June 2011 while decreased by 20.43 percent when compared to the imports of May 2011.

The telecom imports in June 2012 stood at US$ 96.680 million against the imports of US$ 85.527 million in June 2011 and US$ 121.499 in May 2012, the data revealed.

During the month under review, the mobile phone imports surged 25.63 percent when compared to the imports of June 2011 and decreased by 11.17 percent when compared to the imports of May 2012.

In June, the mobile phone imports were recorded at US$ 56.176 million against the imports of US$ 44.714 in June 2011 and US$ 63.237 in May 2011.

However, in June 2012, the imports of other telecom apparatus decreased by 0.76 percent and 30.48 percent as compared to the imports of June 2011 and May 2012.

The imports of telecom apparatus in June 2012 stood at US$ 40.504 million against the imports of US$ 40.813 million in June 2011 and US$ 58.262 million in May 2011, the data revealed.

It is pertinent to mention here that the overall impost from the country during the fiscal year 2011-12 increased by 11.13 percent.

The imports during the year under review were recorded at US$ 44.912 billion against the imports of US$40.414 billion, according to the PBS data.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Carnegie Mellon University press release on Polly, an app for illiterate job seekers:

PITTSBURGH-A silly telephone game that became a viral phenomenon in Pakistan has demonstrated some serious potential for teaching poorly educated people about automated voice services and provided a new tool for them to learn about jobs, say researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Pakistan's Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

The game, called Polly, is simplicity itself: a caller records a message and Polly adds funny sound effects, such as changing a male's voice to a female voice (or vice versa), or making the caller sound like a drunk chipmunk. The caller can then forward the message to one or more friends, who in turn can forward it along or reply to it.

Polly may not sound like a research project, but Roni Rosenfeld, professor in Carnegie Mellon's Language Technologies Institute, said it is pioneering the use of entertainment to reach illiterate and low-literate people and introduce them to the potential of telephone-based services. Such phone services could help non-affluent, poorly educated people find jobs, find or sell merchandise, become politically active, create speech-based mailing lists and even support citizen journalism.

But people can't use these services if they don't know how.

rosenfeldEven though most people in Pakistan have access to a phone, many don't understand the technology behind an automated telephone-based service, said Agha Ali Raza, a Ph.D. student in language technology and a native Pakistani. "They expect to talk to a person on the other end of the line," he explained. "When they hear, 'Press 1 to do this,' or 'Press 2 to do that,' they don't press anything; they just start talking."

With Polly, Rosenfeld, Raza and Umar Saif, an associate professor of computer science at LUMS, have shown that if the training is fun, people will not only learn how to use phone-based services, but will eagerly spread the word and even show each other how to use it. Polly was launched in Lahore, Pakistan in May 2012 by giving its phone number to five poor, low-skilled workers. By mid-September, 85,000 people had used it almost half a million times.

Though budget pressures forced researchers to begin limiting calls to Polly in September, the total number of users climbed to more than 160,000 people, including some non-Pakistanis, as of mid-April. Overall, the system has handled almost 2.5 million calls. The project continues to run.

razaWhat's more, Polly doesn't just deliver funny messages; it also includes job listings. "We daily scan Pakistani newspapers for advertisements for jobs that are appropriate for low-skilled, low-literate workers, record them in the local language and make them available for audio-browsing during the interaction with Polly," Rosenfeld said. As of mid-April, the ads had been listened to more than 380,000 times and had been forwarded more than 21,000 times.

Raza, the lead author, will present results of the research on May 1 at CHI 2013, the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, in Paris, where the report has received a Best Paper award.

Rosenfeld said the entertainment value of Polly helped it spread rapidly, but can't sustain it over time, noting game play dropped rapidly as its novelty wore off. But adding services, such as the job ads, can keep people calling in.

"We found that users took to the job information in large numbers and that many of them started calling Polly specifically for that service - exactly the result we had hoped for," he said....

Riaz Haq said...

Here's an ET story on literacy through text messaging:

For 1,500 women in Pakistan, an SMS message will soon be a tutor, textbook and school all rolled into one.
On Wednesday, Mobilink Foundation — a nonprofit organisation established by Mobilink in 2007 — and UNESCO signed an agreement to enhance their “SMS-based Literacy” programme.
The programme, which will now enter into a fourth phase, aims to educate 1,500 illiterate women in Punjab and Sindh using tutorials that will be sent via text messages in Urdu. At least 4,000 women have previously benefited from the same programme.
In the latest phase, UNESCO has collaborated with government education departments and agencies to increase the project’s outreach. As a result, 500 male students at 20 centres in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will also be taking part.
The six-month initiative will be managed under Mobilink Foundation’s “mTaleem” scheme, which provides education to underprivileged communities across Pakistan.
Throughout the programme, the women, who will be selected by community-based nonprofit organisations, will be given basic training on how to use mobile phones and practical hands-on experience.
The learning performance of the students will be tested using a special software developed by Mobilink.
During this phase, learners at 20 centres, namely Multan, Sahiwal, Okara, Thatta, Jacobabad and Shaheed Benazirabad will be participating in the programme. The phase also includes UNESCO’s initiative for the capacity building of rural female teachers, whereby 150 teachers in Islamabad will be trained about Early Childhood Education while 30 teachers in Multan, Sahiwal and Okara will learn about literacy and non-formal basic education.
UNESCO Islamabad Director Dr Kozue Kay Nagata said that the programme’s novel approach, while developing interest among the learners would also safeguard them from relapsing into illiteracy.
The mobile phones, however, contextualise the learning to suit modern day realities.
The phones can be used for sending and receiving text messages in the future, thereby helping the women retain the basic language skills they have learnt, said Nagata.
Incentives such as permanent ownership of the phone sets and free SMS from Mobilink for a fixed duration also fuel interest, she added.
Mobilink Corporate Communications Head Omar Manzur said the programme has also won the GSMA’s Global Mobile Award in the “Connected Life Awards” category and was acknowledged as the “Best Mobile Education or Learning Product or Service” in February this year.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Newstribe story on USAID program to increase literacy in Pakistan:

ISLAMABAD: The United States announces the launch of the Pakistan Reading Project to boost the reading skills of 3.2 million Pakistani children.

This project will fund improvements in reading instruction and reading assessment in grades one through five throughout the Pakistani public school system. The International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is partnering with regional governments and Pakistani civil society organizations, will implement this $160 million project in an estimated 38,000 public schools over the next five years.

The launch of this program on International Literacy Day, observed annually on September 8, demonstrates the firm commitment of the United States and its Pakistani partners to improving critical reading and writing skills.

“The Pakistan Reading Project provides Pakistani children an opportunity to develop skills which are essential for success in higher education and in the workplace. Children who do not learn to read in the first few grades of school will struggle to keep up with classroom assignments in later grades,” Gregory Gottlieb, Mission Director of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said after the agreement was signed between USAID and IRC. “IRC is honored to work on such an important project which will help improve the quality of education for millions of Pakistani children,” IRC Chief of Party, John Shumaker, said.

This initiative is just one part of a comprehensive U.S. education assistance program which includes building or rehabilitating nearly 800 schools; launching new degree programs in education at 90 colleges and universities; providing scholarships for 12,000 students to study in Pakistan; and operating the largest Fulbright academic exchange program in the world.

Riaz Haq said...

Illiterate women recipients in Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) "could read English numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) and knew what they represented", according to a CGAP study.

The study also found that "every BISP recipient could identify the different notes in her currency. The denominations are written in the English number system, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1000, etc., so that reinforces their comprehension of numbers."

"Another obvious option is to provide verbal communication. However, in testing instructions for how to use an ATM, BISP recipients struggled with making the translation from verbal instruction to manual action. Abstractions such as “top, right” or “the square” were confusing. Many literate people are used to dealing with abstractions and translating from one domain to another, but illiterate people are not practiced in this skill"

"So, having determined what does not work, we looked for a way to communicate without words, diagrams or icons, or verbal instructions. The answer was simple: we used photographs. Photographs are literal ways to communicate—there is no abstraction. We found that BISP women were confident and eager to use an ATM after they were shown a series of photographs showing each step of the process"

The percentage of people with cell phones (nearly 80%) in Pakistan is much higher than the literacy rate (60%) in the country. The above explains why illiterate people are able to use cell phones.

Riaz Haq said...

If Pakistan is mostly illiterate, then how on earth do people send all these text messages?
Numbers can be pretty misleading. Take this one for example: 56 per cent: That’s the percentage of the Pakistani population who are said to be ‘literate’, a definition that includes those who can only read or write their names. Based on this we (or rather the UN) came up with another number, ranking Pakistan at the 113th position in global literacy rates out of a total 120 countries.

Now that’s pretty embarrassing, but it really doesn’t paint the complete picture. So let me toss another few numbers at you and tell you that our tele-density ration is 73pc. This means that there are around 129 million mobile phone subscribers in Pakistan, almost all of whom, we can safely assume, are busily texting away.

Considering this, the UN must revise the definition of literacy to reflect the number of people who can construct short messages in (broken) English or roman Urdu using their mobile phone keypads.

The people who had never been to school and were never formally taught phonetics or the Urdu alphabet (let alone English) are now writing poetry, forwarding jokes and writing romantic and cheesy messages. The driver is having a steamy affair with the neighbour’s ‘Kaam wali’ while they exchange cheesy sms every one hour.

To facilitate this segment even more, mobile phones now have Urdu alphabets imprinted on them. Not only this, text messaging software supporting Urdu characters have been launched in the market and are being readily used by scores of people. Even Romanised Urdu is very popular — though the use of ‘creative’ spellings means you may struggle at first to decipher what’s being written. Can these people then be termed illiterate? Doesn’t quite seem to add up!

It is baffling to see that my maid carries two phones, the driver sports three of them, whereas the cook and other domestic staff each have more than one mobile phone at least. Their knowledge in terms of the functions of each phone, its specs and what technical features it has, is remarkable — probably I wouldn’t know so much about my own phone as much as they would on how to fix a bug in my contraption!

Not only this, their information on particular cellular packages is amazing. They have updates about the rates of various companies, including the unique selling points of each provider. With their extensive research, they can brief you in a moment as to which network to use for a cost effective call depending on your location.

The ‘illiterate’ carpenter runs his entire business based on his cellular skills. He has a ‘mobile office’ and he sets appointments via his mobile phone. He will text you the time at which he will visit your place. If he runs late, you will get a text message saying ‘soory- m late 1 ar’ — at least you don’t have to rot in wait cursing him and you can run your errands for another one hour! The uneducated tailor will also text the womenfolk, confirming if they asked for a blue lace or a pink one for the chiffon kurta — at least he is taking a proactive measures to prevent a massive blunder and all because he’s now text-savvy.

My driver, who also falls in the ‘untaught’ category, punches in the destination where we have to drive to, and lo and behold we get there without having to ask for directions bang in front of the gate. Not having been exposed to books and classrooms, how does he know how to key in the street name and the address in the device? Can he still be classed as illiterate?

Perhaps the UN should think of revising the literacy ratio to 73pc from 56pc.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan's Sindh provincial government is planning a literacy program to reach women and girls in remote areas via cellphone, a project leader says.

The country has a national literacy rate of 70 percent for males and 47 percent for females, the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2011-2012 shows. In Sindh's urban areas, the male literacy rate is 85 percent and female literacy rate is 70 percent, but in rural Sindh the figures are 58 percent for males and 23 percent for females, whose opportunity to pursue an education is often hindered by the religious and cultural tradition known as purdah, which limits their ability to move outside their homes unless accompanied by a male relative.

The six-month program, expected to start this year, will be aimed at girls and women ages 15 to 25 in rural areas, the senior program manager for the digital literacy project, Ghulam Nabi Leghari, said.

It will focus initially on women who have never attended school. A female coordinator will visit selected candidates' homes to give weekly classes and regular lessons will be sent to them by cellular phone.

"Initially the program will be sending text messages to the female students. If they and their families agree to send them, then classroom teaching will begin," Leghari told UPI Next.

The classroom phase would involve three hours of work a day, six days a week for two months. In the third month, students would receive cellphones and would be able to send and receive Sindhi-language text messages, using software developed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and a local telecommunications company.

"Learners will be selected on the basis of whether they are semiliterate. This criteria may be relaxed in … some special cases. Around 750 cellphone sets will be provided to learners, 30 for teachers, 10 for coordinators and 10 for monitoring purposes," Leghari said.

He said students in the program would be able to send text messages free for four months and that an organization would be hired to translate messages in Urdu -- Pakistan's national language and the language of the original training materials -- into Sindhi, and handle other functions related to the project, including training teachers.

Shaista Sattar, a 25-year-old woman who has never attended school, said the program could have a positive impact on the lives of rural Pakistani girls and women:

"It is very important that girls will be trained to use the cellular phones and how to write and send text messages," Sattar told UPI Next.

"Besides," she said, "women and girls will also be able to receive education through cellphones. They'll be able to take their lessons whenever they have free time."

Provincial Senior Minister for Education and Literacy Nisar Ahmed Khuhro told UPI Next that female literacy is important in any country's development, and in regions where female literacy is low, speedy programs need to be implemented.

The provincial Education Department is planning to start mobile-based literacy programs in three districts -- Jacobabad, Shaheed Benazirabad and Thatta -- where female literacy rates are the lowest. Each district will have 10 centers, where the educational content of the text messages will be prepared and sent to students.

"The main purpose is to open 30 centers for female adult literacy to help female learners improve their acquired basic literacy skills through mobile phones, and apply these skills for their own betterment as well as the betterment of other females of the area, and improve the overall living standard of the village or community," the minister said.

Provincial Education Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho said the project would help girls in remote areas who have less access to primary schools.

Riaz Haq said...

Around 70 per cent of young Pakistanis can read and write, something which only half the general population is capable, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Uneso).

Unseco’s Pakistan Director Dr Kozue Kay Nagata shared these figures with media personnel at a ceremony on Monday to mark International Literacy Day. She said that the global literacy rate had risen to almost 84 per cent.

Dr Nagata said the primary school survival rate – that is, the proportion of students who get through primary school – was significantly higher in the Punjab, at 76 per cent, than the rest of the country, at 70 per cent. However, she noted that there was a gender gap, with girls showing a primary school survival rate of 72 per cent and boys 80 per cent.

The Punjab government spends around Rs6,900 on each primary student per year, she said. “With the population and relative size of the province, coupled with its political leadership, the Punjab seems to be paving the way for the entire country in regards to education,” she said.

Literacy and Non Formal Basic Education Secretary Dr Pervaiz Ahmed Khan said that the government aimed to make sure that there were no out-of-school children aged 5 to 9 in the province by 2015. It was also targeting a literacy rate of 88 per cent by then.

He said while the country as a whole was lagging behind in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the Punjab government was working to meet them. He said that his department was assisting the Schools Education Department in the Punjab Emergency School Enrolment campaign. So far, he said, the department had educated almost 700,000 formerly illiterate adults and out-of-school children.

The department is currently running more than 7,000 non-formal basic education schools across the province. It is also planning a pilot project to establish non-formal vocational middle schools in southern Punjab.

Additional Literacy and Non Formal Basic Education Secretary Nadeem Alam Butt said that the department was adopting modern training and education methods. The department was working on programmes to provide literacy online and through mobile phones, he added.

Education Minister Rana Mashood Ahmed Khan defended the government against “needless criticism of effective interventions” in his speech at the ceremony. “The enrolment campaign is not a political slogan,” he said. “It is time to move beyond political mud-slinging. The elections are now over.”

Khan said that the Punjab government had allocated 26 per cent of the budget to education. The government was serious about education reforms, as evident from its awarding of scholarships to students on merit and the enrolment campaign.

Riaz Haq said...

A research report by U.N. education agency says cell phones are getting more and more people to read in developing countries, including Pakistan, where books are rare and illiteracy is high.

The report was published today, 23 April, on the occasion of World Book and Copyright Day.

UNESCO’s study of mobile reading was conducted in seven developing countries, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

The report, Reading in the Mobile Era, highlights that hundreds of thousands of people currently use mobile technology as a portal to text

Findings show that in countries where illiteracy rates are high and physical text is scarce, large numbers of people read full-length books and stories on rudimentary small screen devices.

The report, the first-ever study of mobile readers in developing countries, provides valuable information about how mobile reading is practiced today and by whom.

Worldwide 774 million people, including 123 million youth, cannot read or write and illiteracy can often be traced to the lack of books. Most people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not own a single book, and schools in this region rarely provide textbooks to learners.

Yet the report cites data showing that where books are scarce, mobile technology is increasingly common, even in areas of extreme poverty. The International Telecommunication Union estimates that of the 7 billion people on Earth, 6 billion have access to a working mobile phone.

Drawing on the analysis of over 4,000 surveys and corresponding qualitative interviews, the study found that:

• large numbers of people (one third of study participants) read stories to children from mobile phones;

• females read far more on mobile devices than males (almost six times as much according to the study);

• both men and women read more cumulatively when they start reading on a mobile device;

• Many neo- and semi-literate people use their mobile phones to search for text that is appropriate to their reading ability.

The study is intended as a roadmap for governments, organizations and individuals who wish to use mobile technology to help spread reading and literacy.

The report recommends improving the diversity of mobile reading content to appeal to specific target groups such as parents and teachers; initiating outreach and trainings to help people transform mobile phones into portals to reading material; and lowering costs and technology barriers to mobile reading.

Riaz Haq said...

NBP, KARANDAAZ #Pakistan to work to improve financial inclusion. Focus on G2P and P2G #mobilemoney transactions …

National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) and Karandaaz Pakistan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for jointly working on multiple strategies to create the much-required Digital Financial Ecosystem, through a suite of financial transactions to facilitate the citizens of Pakistan with a focus on Government to Person (G2P) and Person to Government (P2G) transactions. The two institutions agreed to collaboratively develop a comprehensive digital financial services strategy for NBP; develop and deploy the required technology as well as roll out a mobile financial system that will add multiple channels of transactions.

The signing took place at the Karandaaz Pakistan’s office in Islamabad and was attended by senior management from both organizations including Mudassir H. Khan – SEVP/Group Chief CRBG NBP, Azfar Jamal – EVP/Head of Remote Banking & ADC and Mr. Imdad Aslam Interim CEO of Karandaaz Pakistan. Speaking at the occasion, Mudassir H. Khan, stated, “By leveraging on the expertise of Banking and Telcos, NBP aims to achieve its long term goal of financial inclusion in Pakistan and also bridge the service-divide between rural and urban. Development of a Financial Eco-system in partnership with Telecom service providers will be catalyst to extend the financial outreach and convenience to every citizen of Pakistan. NBP is working to enable every possible channel by aggregating all the P2G and G2P transactions.

We are excited to have Karandaaz Pakistan joining us in this initiative, whereby Karandaaz, which is a Bill & Malinda Gates Foundation & DFID sponsored entity, will provide their rich experience and expertise to NBP in building the much required financial ecosystem in Pakistan”. Speaking at the event, Imdad Aslam, Interim CEO of the company, stated, “The potential of G2P payments to accelerate financial inclusion in the short to medium term is tremendous and cannot be over emphasized. On the one hand, governments can determine the way they disburse payments to their beneficiaries and drive them towards digital payment streams, which in turn can enable the creation of financial products that address the barriers to financial inclusion.

On the other hand, social benefit payments, intended for the marginalized and vulnerable, inevitably reach some of the most financially excluded populations. Digitization of such payments, therefore, presents great opportunity to increase recipients’ access to financial services and provide them with a financial transaction history.” Concluding the event on a high note, Imdad Aslam said, “The cost of digitization is overshadowed by the benefits to individuals, financial institutions and the government over time, and we expect to see the same in this case.”

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan's 2nd, 4th & 5th grade girls much more #literate than #India's. #Nepal's girls do best in #literacy tests …

Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have stolen a march over India in quality of school education.

Data from new research on female literacy show that India’s school education system is under-performing in terms of quality when compared to its neighbours, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The research studies changes in female literacy over a number of schooling years.

The proportion of women who completed five years of primary schooling in India and were literate was 48 per cent, much less than 92 percent in Nepal, 74 per cent in Pakistan and 54 per cent in Bangladesh.

These findings, which are part of a forthcoming background paper, were released in a blog-post by New York-based International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity (or Education Commission) last week. Justin Sandefur, one of the authors of the paper, said, “This is a simple but powerful signal that India’s education system is under-performing.”

The data also revealed that, female literacy rates went up by one to 15 per cent after completing two years of schooling. Corresponding numbers for Pakistan and Nepal were three to 31 per cent and 11 to 47 per cent respectively. “This implies that schooling is roughly twice as productive at generating literacy for women during the early grades in Pakistan when compared to India. Or, it could also mean that Indian schools are much more lenient about promoting students who cannot read,” Mr. Sandefur said.

DHS data

For this research, the authors devised a way to measure the quality of education around the world, with a specific focus on girls, using data from nationally representative Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) — one of the most comparable data sources on living standards in the developing world. “We used data from all countries with DHS data that included the literacy measure,” Mr. Sandefur said. Around the world, female literacy rates are improving. However, it is not clear if that is because of improvement in school quality, the study says. India ranks low in global indices of female literacy as well. If countries are ranked by the earliest grade at which at least half of the women are literate — a proxy for quality of learning — India ranks 38th among the 51 developing countries for which comparable data is available. Indonesia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Tanzania — all rank higher than India. Ghana is placed at the bottom. According to this study, just seven per cent of female students in Ghana can read after attaining their sixth grade.

Over the years, most countries studied made improvements in the number of girls finishing primary school, which should lead to more literate women. But for girls who don’t finish primary school, the trend is not encouraging: researchers found that little to no progress has been made in increasing basic literacy for the girls who drop out. The report notes, “Millions of women have spent multiple years in school and emerged unable to read a simple sentence” and “it’s not getting much better over time.”