Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How "Illiterate" Are Pakistan's "Illiterate" Cell Phone Users?

Pakistan's teledensity of 76.65% significantly exceeds the country's reported literacy rate of just 60%. This data raises the following questions:

1. Are the 16.65% of Pakistani cell phone users classified as "illiterate" really illiterate? 

2. If they are "illiterate", then how are they able to use the mobile phones?

3. Isn't there significant anecdotal evidence to suggest that many of those classified as "illiterate" are in fact  quite literate in terms of the use of cell phone technology? 

To try and get answers to the above questions, let's look at the findings of a survey of "illiterate" Pakistani women on Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) conducted by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor  (CGAP):

1. The "illiterate" women could read English numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) and knew what they represented.

2. 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.

3. None of the women we spoke with could read or write Urdu script.

4. Photographs were used to communicate instructions  to "illiterate" women on how to use ATMs. . The BISP women were confident and eager to use an ATM after they were shown a series of photographs showing each step of the process.

These findings confirm the UNESCO strategy in Pakistan and other developing countries to use cell phones for boosting literacy rates.

UNESCO’s own study of mobile reading was conducted in 2013-14 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.

Drawing on the analysis of over 4,000 surveys and corresponding qualitative interviews, the UNESCO 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.

Since 2009, UNESCO Islamabad, BUNYAD Foundation (NGO) and Mobilink Pakistan (mobile phone company) are jointly implementing a project called "Mobile-Based Post-Literacy Program" (MBLP) to address the literacy retention problem of newly literates, specifically young and adult females.

Let's hope Pakistan's public and private sectors will make full use of technology, particularly mobile phone technology accessible to more than three-quarters of the people, to accelerate mass literacy in the country.

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

History of Literacy in Pakistan

Use of Cell Phones For Mass Literacy in Pakistan

3G Rollout in Pakistan

Educational Attainment in Pakistan

Upwardly Mobile Pakistan

Biotech and Genomics in Pakistan 

India and Pakistan Contrasted in 2014
Eating Grass-The Making of Pakistani Bomb
Educational Attainment Dataset By Robert Barro and Jong-Wha Lee 

Quality of Higher Education in India and Pakistan

Developing Pakistan's Intellectual Capital

Intellectual Wealth of Nations

Pakistan's Story After 64 Years of Independence

Pakistan Ahead of India on Key Human Development Indices


Riaz Haq said...

Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) has developed 100 Days Action Plan (100 DAP) with over 70 actionable items with specific deadlines and responsibilities in order to meet the operational and service delivery related challenges."
Minister of State/ Chairperson BISP, MNA Marvi Memon disclosed this here on Wednesday while talking to the media during an interactive session at BISP Secretariat.
She said BISP is moving towards e-governance systems as all the action plans of 100 DAP will be tracked by the higher management of the organization and also by the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister through the dashboard mechanism.
The 100 DAP was developed through a brain storming workshop involving the Headquarter staff as well as the Field Officers to identify the major areas of concern and to find their probable solutions.
Moreover, feedback from the development partners of BISP as well as the Board members was also sought to make this action plan effective and practical.
Around 70 key areas have been identified for the action plan on which appropriate action would be taken on priority to increase the efficiency and productivity of the organization and to facilitate the marginalized segments of the society.
Sharing the salient points of the action plan, she said that the issues related to the disbursement of payment will be focused to enhance the efficiency of the payment process by tackling bank related issues including card activation and replacement process.
Compliance of the service agreement by the banks will be ensured and the new payment mechanisms like high-tech biometric cards will be piloted.
In order to help the uneducated and poor women for obtaining their cash transfer amounts smoothly, financial literacy project will also be started.
She said that the poverty survey was conducted almost five years back so it is under consideration that a fresh survey may be carried out keeping in view the present socio-economic conditions. The re-survey will also target those deserving families who were not included in the previous survey.
To facilitate more and more deserving people, BISP will make efforts for issuance of CNIC cards to the Non-CNIC pending beneficiaries. In this regard, social mobilization campaign through women committees will be launched.
According to the data available after Poverty Score Card survey 7.7 million families were identified as eligible beneficiaries of BISP, out of which 5.5 million are active beneficiaries while 2.2 million beneficiaries are still pending.
She further said that a sanity check of the database has been started and the payment to the beneficiaries has been initiated accordingly.
Moreover, anti-fraud public service campaign with the help of Telecom companies, FIA, PTA and media organizations has been started. In order to facilitate and empower the women through a complaint registering process, a hotline number 0800-26477 by the name of `FORI RABTA' has also been activated.
BISP is also launching a comprehensive communication strategy, SMS service for beneficiaries, e-newsletter, annual reports and a campaign against vulnerability through art, documentary films and documenting successful stories.
Regarding Waseela-e-Taleem initiative, she said, full extension would be done in 27 new districts with better attendance compliance and improved coordination with provinces.
A detailed Monitoring and Evaluation system would be devised for successful implementation of ongoing Spot Checks and ensuring timely launch of catch-up exercise for Unconditional Cash Transfer pending beneficiaries.
Marvi Memon said that the vision of the Prime Minister is to make BISP `pride of Pakistan' by improving its delivery services and products for the dignity of beneficiaries, their empowerment and for giving meaning to their lives.

Riaz Haq said...

Excerpts from "Text is not the enemy: How illiterates’ use their mobile phones by Hendrik Knoche and Jeffrey Huang"

We carried out semi-structured interviews (60-90minutes in duration) in cafes or the participants’ homes. All 9 participants (7f, 2m) had immigrated from Africa or Latin America to Switzerland and recently started a course to learn how to read and write. The interview included topics such as a typical day, problems or inconveniences faced, media used in the home, means of communication and information, interacting with necessary machinery, e.g. automated teller machines (ATMs), and a focus on the use of their mobile phones. We wanted to know how they received and placed calls and managed contacts; we also probed for other functions that they used.
Outside the phone
Unlike in Lalji’s study our interviewees could all tell digital time and read numbers. Almost half of the Swiss participants made use of paper calendars to some degree. Almost exclusively they only noted down the times of meetings in the slot for a day (on calendars with a grid) not with whom or where. One exception to these handwritten notes were cards given to them for doctor’s appointments that contained the time, date and contextual information about the doctor.

Rote memorization
The speed at which they traversed the phone menus was the same as for literate people. We often had to ask our interviewees to slow down when they were showing us how they performed certain tasks on their phones. They mastered important functionality through rote learning: “After I have clicked on this icon I need to go down twice and then – click! - I’m done.” This was the same technique that they used to learn how to operate other important digital interfaces such as ATMs and game consoles. Family or friends assisted during the memorization phase and they repeated the procedures in their presence as many times as needed. Icons served as landmarks and sometimes the shape or length of text allowed the people to orient themselves in the interface. Continuous help was necessary for smart phone owners to download apps, games, music, ringtones, install customizations (e.g. a different unlock button on the iPhone) and both celebrity and personal picture wallpapers.

Text messaging
All of them had received text messages, though they were often unsolicited. How they dealt with received text messages varied and depended to some degree on the content. Some had developed simple heuristics in detecting unsolicited messages through the length of the sending telephone number and the fact that the message contained a lot of text. Most interviewees responded to an incoming SMS by calling the sender – either they had memorized how to do this through the context menu or they noted down the number and typed it into the phone again. Some of our interviewees treated all messages as spam and had learned either how to exit the received message mode or how to quickly delete them without checking the content or their origin. Others asked for help with the content of the text messages. None of the interviewees felt particularly bad about this approach but one who was in a new relationship found asking close friends to read messages with romantic content exciting at first but then increasingly annoying.
Retrieving contacts
Call logs were valued for their quick access and all of our interviewees made use of them. One recently contacted log, which aggregated recent calls of contacts and sorted them in descending order and left the most recently contacted person on top (either as a telephone number or the name of the contact) was particularly valued by its user: “This is the single most useful thing about this phone. One button click and I’m with my daughter [the only text entry on the top of the list].” All the interviewees besides her had more than 50 contacts stored in their address books. ..

Riaz Haq said...

Polly then sends your goofy-sounding message to the friend and asks if he or she wants to record a message and send it to a friend after Polly makes it sound goofy. If people like playing this game, it goes viral.

Now here's the serious part.

"Once we are spreading, we can add on top of that health messages or employment messages or other messages," says Roni Rosenfeld, one of Polly's creators.

He and his colleagues developed Polly as a way to reach people who can't read. A few years ago, they used Polly in Pakistan to spread information about how to find a job.

To get started, all people had to do was call a local number.

"We gave the number to 30 people [in Pakistan]," says Rosenfeld. "Then within two weeks we had to shut down the system because we got 10,000 calls, we had only a single phone line and we couldn't maintain the volume.

"A few months later when we got 30 lines, we opened it again, gave the number to five people, and it took off to thousands and then tens of thousands and then hundreds of thousands."

According to the researchers, 20 percent of about 165,000 people playing the game also listened to the employment message.

Last November, Rosenfeld started working on a version of Polly for the West African nation of Guinea, where Ebola is still a problem.

Instead of giving out employment information, Polly tells Guineans what to do if they suspect someone has Ebola, how to avoid getting Ebola and what to do when someone dies of Ebola. The idea is to build on what health workers are doing on the ground.

Rosenfeld says Polly is catching on more slowly in Guinea than in Pakistan. He knows people are forwarding messages to their friends, "but the numbers remain in the thousands, not in the hundreds of thousands." So the game is being tweaked to make it more appealing.

Polly's Africa debut was largely propelled by one of Rosenfeld's grad students, Agha Ali Raza. Last November wasn't a great time for Raza to start a new project. He was trying to finish up his Ph.D. But he decided he had no choice.

"I did not want myself to be in a situation like a year from this time to think that 'OK, I was there, I could have done something, but I did not try,'" says Raza. "So I wanted to be in a situation that 'I was there, I tried my best, maybe I failed, but I tried my best.'"

Also working on the Polly release in Guinea are Nikolas Wolfe, Juneki Hong and Bhiksh Raj from Carnegie Mellon and Kimberly Phelan Royston, Emily Greem and David Kierski at the U.S. Embassy in Conakry.

Raza, meanwhile, did manage to finish his Ph.D. He plans to keep working on Polly at his new job at the Information Technology University in Lahore, Pakistan.