e-Learning Africa's newsportal has an interview with Philippe Steger, founder of WapEduc, a platform delivering learning resources to the mobile phones of secondary students in France and, as of this year, in Dakar, Senegal. (Heads up: The interview is in French.)
My quick run-through of the WapEduc site suggests that its resources focus on test preparation, which is to say on drill, static content, and comprehension/memorization/performance-style follow-up questions. WapEduc content duplicates or complements the presentation-based classroom and its textbook-format resources. It's a tool that supports learning outside of school in ways that are cognate with traditional pedagogy.
The service is free in Dakar, however users need to pay airtime charges plus data costs. Obviously, kids need to have phones or access to phones as well.
(On the heavily plus side: WAP--or Wireless Application Protocol--as I understand it, means that kids don't need to have smart phones [phones capable of reading html and other 'normal' Web protocols. WAP displays on your street-bought Nokia 2200 just fine.)
There are several questions that pop to mind:
- WapEduc focuses on getting students through tests (and so through school). Is there a problem with that?
- How significant are the costs in Senegal? What regulatory or policy steps can be taken to ensure that all kids with phones don't face cost barriers?
- WapEduc is running a 100-student pilot in Dakar, to be followed by a roll-out to 1,000-2,000 students if the results are good. What kinds of results would be considered "good"? (Using the phone? More time studying? Better scores on tests?)
- The need for WAPified learning resources in effect creates a gate around kids' exploration (WAP don't do porn). For most teachers and most parents--in developing or developed countries--this is not a bad thing. But the content has to be text based. What are the pros and cons?
Finally, and most interesting, the WapEduc catchphrase ("I learn when I want and where I want") corresponds to the mobile (or some might say "ADHD-compatible" or even "twitchy") lifestyles to which many youth aspire. What are the costs and what are the benefits, in terms of learning and cognitive development, of enabling greater mobility and more multitasking in the pursuit of higher levels of secondary-school completion?
(Is, in other words, the vision of WapEduc something like a Senegalese kid skating a ramp in downtown Dakar, or bounding through some Parcours routine, stopping to catch his breath, and dialing up an algebra problem on his phone?)
More on WapEduc in a while....