Friday, June 19, 2009

The cellphone goes to Asian classrooms

Can the cellphone replace the blackboard? Not quite, but it is finding new uses in the classroom in pockets of Asia, says a new report.

The latest and seventh volume of the "Digital Review of Asia Pacific', released at a function here, highlights the power of new communication technologies in the field of education.

In the Philippines, the cellphone and SMS are being used as the primary means for interactive learning. SMS is also being used to inform students of schedule changes, deadlines, examination regulations, grades, new courses and library resources.

Student groups and organisations use the cellphone to publicise social activities, job fairs and book discounts as well as for voting in student elections.

University administrators use cellphones to coordinate the admissions process to conduct marketing campaigns and announce grants, surveys, policies and emergency information like bad weather and suspension of classes.

In Indonesia, Mongolia and the Philippines, the focus of e-learning innovation is also the cellphone.

The review, also called the DirAP, aims to "serve as a guide for (information and communication technologies) ICT-related policy development, planning, research, and project implementation" in the world's most populous continent.

It is put together by the Orbicom Network of Unesco Chairs in Communication (Canada), the International Development Research Centre of Canada, and SAGE Publications India at New Delhi.

The report points to some interesting aspects:

* Studies show that while most students in South Asia use computers, very few have internet access.

* Ironically, the most important problem to internet-based distance education in the Asia-Pacific region - the widespread lack of net access - has been discussed little.

* India, Indonesia, Laos, Mongolia, the Philippines and Thailand were found to be needing a distance education boost.

Bangladesh, says the DirAP report, is a country giving considerable attention to linking literacy with economic affairs. But in China, it says, inter-sectoral coordination is critical for lifelong learning and linking education with poverty alleviation.

The report says the Asia-Pacific region needs organisational upgrading, training to advance distance education in the region.

Incidentally, the Virtual University of Pakistan has state-of-the-art servers, 155 Mbps fibre trunk. Yet, students have been wary and slow in joining, suggests the study, but more numbers have been joining since 2005. The Pakistani initiative is at

There are problems elsewhere too. E-learning is seen to work in Cambodia, but lack of institutional support, and a negative perception of distance education is affecting the field.

The open university of Indonesia (Universitas Terbuka) has 1,000 courses, 31 study programmes and four faculties. But limited net access hits students. Slow net speed is an issue too.

In most of the 13 Asia-Pacific countries studied, browser loading times were up to four times slower than acceptable.

(Frederick Noronha can be contacted at

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