Changing the role of teachers by integrating mobile technology in a rural school in Zimbabwe: A reflection in the light of UNESCO policy guidelines

Mr Urs Gröhbiel and Mr Christoph Pimmer | Presentation (PDF)

University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland



The pass rates of the 450 secondary school students in Mpumelelo in rural Zimbabwe are very low. This is, inter alia, caused by a severe lack of teaching resources (books, electronic media and technical equipment).

To address the problem, it was decided to set up an mobile learning pilot with 20 iPads, involving World Vision (WV) as a global NGO and a Swiss University (FHNW) with experience in mobile learning in developing countries. The evaluation design included ex-ante phone interviews and a 5-day field trip with teacher and staff workshops and pilot lessons. Evaluation was based on the qualitative analysis of non-transcribed data from interviews and focus groups, and on observations.

The results of the design and pilot phase will be presented in the light of the UNESCO policy guidelines from 2013 regarding two dimensions (Figure 1):

  • Attention: The level of attention paid to each policy area (blue color).
  • Impact: The level of (perceived) success in following the guidelines (red color).
  • On a general level the policy guidelines were valuable for the development and evaluation of the pilot. Four policy areas were given a high level of attention in the design and support of the pilot (additional information, Figure 1, blue line).

 The integration of the iPads focused specifically on two areas:

  • The teachers learned how to search for apps and program that can be integrated into their day-to-day teaching.
  • The goal was to improve the teaching quality by facilitating different forms of collaborative learning and introducing multimedia (Guideline 2).
  • They also planned to provide students with access to exam questions and related material via their iPads to support exam preparation (Guideline 4).
  • This includes the preparation of the questions and coaching outside of the classroom.


The requirements for the teachers to put mobile learning into practice were high. Accordingly, training the teachers to use mobile technology (Guideline 2) was given very high priority – and proved to be a key influencing factor in two ways: Firstly, the teachers involved gained important media literacy skills, which then had a direct impact on how they used the iPads in the pilot lessons. Secondly, they acted as multipliers by introducing mobile learning to their teacher colleagues and by presenting their experiences to local and district school inspectors.

In addition to the challenges related to media literacy, the teachers also had to manage a transformation of their role: the realization of interactive and collaborative learning in the classroom was a new experience (and challenge), changing their role as instructors to that of facilitators. The planned coaching of students in their exam preparation will further accentuate the role change in the future.

While the first evaluation results are positive, the integration of mobile devices in a rural school remains a highly critical and sensitive endeavor. The UNESCO policy guidelines will provide valuable orientation in managing open issues such as improving connectivity at reasonable cost, maintenance of hardware and continuous teacher training.



Urs Gröhbiel is a researcher and lecturer for eLearning and founder of the learning lab, which supports innovation in teaching at the School of Business, University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.

In research and consulting he focuses on education for development, cross-cultural aspects of teaching, learning and knowledge management, educational innovation, eLearning management, strategy development, controlling and quality development.

Urs Gröhbiel has designed, managed and monitored several national innovation initiatives in Higher Education and K-12 since 1999. He is consulting government agencies, enterprises and non-profit organizations in educational management, in particular strategic- and ICT-management.

As auditor for several accreditation and certification organizations he has a deep insight into pedagogical, technical and organizational aspects of eLearning activities in many countries.

Christoph Pimmer is lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts Northwestern Switzerland FHNW. His research interests include mobile and technology-enhanced learning and work-based education. His research has been published in journals in the fields of Education, Scientific Disciplines as well as Health Care Sciences & Services. Christoph has co-edited the book ‘Work-Based Mobile Learning. Concepts and Cases, Peter-Lang, Oxford’ and he serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Mobile and Blended Learning. Christoph is a frequent speaker at academic and practitioner conferences and with his work he has contributed to UN-based policy development and multi-stakeholder initiatives, for example to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, to the World Summit of the Information Society, and to UN-GEThealth Summit.



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