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Mobilink & UNESCO: female literacy through SMS

Mobilink has announced the expansion of the SMS-based literacy project in partnership with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Launched last year with a view to reshaping lives through connectivity, the SMS-based literacy programme is a joint venture between Mobilink and UNESCO with a local NGO, Bunyad as the implementing partner.

In the pilot, 250 learners received informative text messages daily in Urdu and were expected to respond. In the second part, the participants were evaluated on a periodic basis to assess gains in knowledge and learning. The programme was conducted with the help of 10 teachers enlisted by Bunyad.

Rashid Khan, President and CEO, Mobilink, while addressing the media stated that the 5-month pilot project conducted with 250 adolescent girls in Punjab showed a marked improvement in their reading and writing skills. Khan announced the expansion of the programme to include another 1,000 girls to understand the impact of replicating the project on a larger scale. The programme teachers reported a stark improvement in the confidence of the young girls as owning a mobile phone made a difference to their sense of security.

Warren Mellor, Country Director UNESCO stated that Pakistan is the signatory of the Dakar Framework of Action for EFA, held in Dakar, Senegal in April, 2000 and Pakistan has committed to achieve 86% literacy rate by 2015.

This year, at the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona — the largest phone industry fair in the world — a report was issued on the mobile phone gender gap in middle and low income countries entitled, Women & Mobile: a Global Opportunity.

This fascinating study explored the impact of phone connectivity on women’s lives, enabling greater economic and social participation. In accordance with the UN Millennium Development Goals on gender equality, mobile phone usage for women has played a significant role in empowering women to run their own business, obtain better jobs and stay in touch with family and friends.

Notably, Mobilink is the only Pakistani operator to have been featured in report, highlighting Mobilink’s role in demonstrating the positive impact of mobile phones on women’s lives and how to overcome community resistance to female phone ownership. Also featured in the report is a statement from Mobilink’s Vice President Marketing, Bilal Munir Sheikh on cellular penetration: “In less than a decade mobile phones in Pakistan have gone from being a toy for the rich to a tool for the successful,” demonstrating the revolutionising effect of mobile phones on people’s lives.

This report also includes an innovative case study about Mobilink’s programme run in partnership with UNESCO to improve literacy rates for adolescent girls in rural areas of Pakistan where reading materials are often scarce. The following is an extract taken from the report, Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity, published by the GSMA Development Fund in partnership with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women:

“Pakistani mobile operator Mobilink, a subsidiary of Orascom, has learned a great deal about attitudes regarding women and mobile phones, especially as penetration rates soared in Pakistan over the last several years. In addition to creating a product tailored specifically for the women’s market several years ago, Mobilink has sought to demonstrate the power of mobile phones to improve literacy rates for adolescent girls in rural areas of Pakistan where reading materials are often scarce. Yet there is often resistance to girls’ having the independence that mobile phones symbolise.

For four months in 2009, Mobilink partnered with UNESCO and a local non-governmental organisation (NGO), Bunyad, on a pilot project in a rural area of southern Punjab province involving 250 females aged 15-24 who had recently completed a basic literacy programme. Each of the girls was provided with a low-cost mobile phone and prepaid connection. Teachers were trained by Bunyad to teach students how to read and write using mobile phones. The company set up a system for the NGO to send out SMS messages in an effort to maintain and improve participants’ literacy, which often lapses because of inadequate access to interesting reading material. Crucially, the low-cost phones were enabled to send and receive messages in Urdu, the local language, rather than in English. The girls received up to six messages a day on a variety of topics including religion, health and nutrition, and were expected to practice reading and writing down the messages and responding to their teachers via SMS. Monthly assessments of participants learning gains were conducted to assess impact.

Programme organisers encountered considerable resistance on the part of parents and community leaders to the idea of allowing girls to have mobile phones, largely due to the conservative social norms of the area. This resistance began to soften, however, once people began to see the nature of the messages the girls were receiving and the benefits the programme conferred. Exams taken by the girls participating in the programme showed striking early gains in literacy, with the share of girls receiving the lowest scores dropping nearly 80%. Participants and their families are even taking advantage of other features of the phones, including the calculator. While 56% of learner and their families initially maintained negative feelings towards the programme, 87% were satisfied with its results by the end. Families also appreciated the greater sense of security that being able to contact their daughters or wives provided. Users can pay $6 to buy their phones at the end of the programme and continue receiving text messages, and Mobilink, UNESCO and Bunyad plan to expand the programme further.

The success of this programme demonstrates how mobile phones can be used to increase the reach and effectiveness of basic education programmes. It also illustrates the fact that suspicion of mobile phones can be overcome by showing parents and leaders how mobiles can be used to transmit culturally sensitive information whilst increasing girls’ sense of security…”

This pioneering programme captured international attention as it demonstrated the ability of mobile phones to enhance basic education programmed and how it can be an invaluable resource to transmit information, thereby helping to protect and empower women.

Mobilink Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives

At Mobilink CSR is a continuing commitment by the company. Focusing on the fields of Health, Environment and Literacy, Mobilink has undertaken various initiatives to support the local community. Key initiatives undertaken by Mobilink include:

Swat IDPs
To ease the suffering of internally displaced Pakistani brothers and sisters from Swat in 2009, Mobilink mobilised funds approximating Rs. 81 million towards establishing the Mobilink Camp in Kund for 1,000 families for two months. The unconditional dedication and personal commitment of Mobilink’s employees touched another 2,500 families, through the donation and distribution of aid to locations not reached by other organisations.

Preventing Polio
As the first telecom operator to partner with the Polio Eradication Fraternity, Mobilink helps create awareness of Polio through SMS broadcasts about upcoming immunisation drives, sent to over 7 million users in high-risk zones across Pakistan. A short code has been established to facilitate the Polio Control Cell in reaching the children who have been missed during the campaign.

Recycled School Bags for Underprivileged Children
An attempt to create a solution through recycling was to use outdated billboard skins to manufacture school bags for under-privileged children. About 33,000 school bags have been distributed in rural areas to students of ‘I am paid to learn’ schools of Zindagi Trust and CARE Foundation.

Scholarship Programmes
Each year Mobilink provides a Bachelors scholarship to the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology (GIKI) and two scholarships; one for MBA and another for Bachelors in Computer Science, at LUMS. Mobilink funds the Bachelors degree of five National Outreach Program students, totalling Rs. 8.6 million. Additionally, Mobilink has given out primary and secondary education scholarships worth Rs. 2.7 million to the top 12 deserving children of Roshni Homes Trust in Gujranwala for the last 3 years.

The Citizens Foundation Schools — Mobilink Campuses
Mobilink has helped fund the establishment of two schools for The Citizens Foundation: a primary school in Nathoki, Lahore, and secondary school in Taiser Town, Karachi. An annual contribution of Rs. 2.1 million ensured access to quality education for 360 students.

CARE Foundation & Zindagi Trust
Mobilink funded annual expenses for the MC Girls High School in Harbunspura, Lahore amounting to Rs. 1.6 million, which benefited 1,760 girl students and over 26 teachers. Mobilink Foundation has also partnered with Zindagi Trust to provide financial support of Rs. 0.9 million for a school in Haji Usman Town, Karachi. 113 students and 6 teachers benefitted from improvements made to the school’s infrastructure.

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