03.09.2014 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

Technology increases illiterate women’s interest in learning


UNESCO’s experience in Senegal shows that mobile phones, computers, internet and TV make literacy courses much more attractive for illiterate women.

“We have demonstrated that technology increases illiterate women’s interest in learning new skills and helps build their confidence, as they are able to read and write their own messages and use the keyboard to correct their own sentences,” says Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of UNESCO’s Regional Office in Dakar.

“We now have literacy classes where women have made the transition to using mobile phones and computers. It has become an attraction, which has pooled a lot of interest,” she adds.

Comprehensive literacy package

UNESCO Dakar has been running the PAJEF literacy project in Senegal since 2011 through an interesting partnership between government structures, NGOs and local communities. Literacy classes are taking place face-to-face for some beneficiaries, but the majority of women learn through DVDs, online and mobile applications and television programmes.

This allows women to improve not only their literacy skills but also IT skills, as well as vocational and life skills training, which is an integral part of the literacy package. Financial support is also given to each class (usually 30 learners) to develop income-generating activities.

A sense of freedom

But why is technology to important for women to engage?

One answer given by PAJEF learners is that technology empowers them and gives a sense of freedom. Most women no longer need help to write text messages and compose numbers on their mobile phones. And online and mobile applications as well as literacy classes on TV allow them to access literacy courses and learn when they want.

“Before I was worried about everything when I went out and I spent my time asking questions. Now I can write things down without needing any help,” says, for example, Marima Dafe, who is following daily literacy classes on television. "I take my note block and pen and follow the lesson on TV, and afterwards I can go back to my household chores."

The PAJEF project includes several innovative ways of using technology in literacy provision:

  • Digitalized classroom: Two hundred classrooms are equipped with a digital kit (the so-called Sankoré kits), comprising a laptop, an interactive beamer and an infrared stylus touch pen which is used to write on a digital board. The kit includes adapted software, designed to encourage greater participation and retention of knowledge thus promoting an active rather than passive learning approach.
  • Use of mobile phones and TV in the classroom: Due to a partnership with RTS, Senegal's national television station, TV is also a key feature in the classroom, with various news and educational programmes used during classes. This ensures that women in the PAJEF literacy programme not only improve their basic literacy skills, but also learn about nutrition, health, the environment and other important issues.
  • Online classes: Online learning courses have been produced using an approach called  “Alpha-omedia”. It permits users to learn in French and several local languages at their own rhythm, as well as track their progress and select their courses. It is also available for mobile phones and can be installed on the women's mobile phones. It is designed for offline use.
  • Literacy training through television shows: A 10-minute literacy course is broadcast on weekdays as part of a popular women's television show. The programme is called “DiegakKeureum” (The Housewife) and is broadcast during daytime on national television. The literacy section includes an introduction, a pedagogical section with a literacy or numeracy lesson, and a mini feature on how to put the lesson into practice in day-to-day life. These sections are broadcast in the local language Wolof. Another television programme, also broadcast in Wolof, is “Jang du Wess” (It Is Never Too Late To Learn).

A model for other countries

PAJEF is now being considered as a strategy for accelerating national literacy while achieving economies of scale. Following the encouraging results obtained in Senegal, UNESCO announced the extension of the project to Kenya and Nigeria, with the latter launching a similar literacy project in March 2014. The Gambia has also shown interest in replicating the project and yet more countries including Pakistan and Namibia, are interested in learning more.

The literacy project is a partnership between the Senegalese government, UNESCO and the multinational private sector company Procter&Gamble.

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