It was rather disappointing when recently Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in India, a prominent education standards body, banned the use of mobile phones in schools. The board feels that mobile phones are a major source of distraction in the classrooms and they are worried more about the misuse of cellphone cameras. Agreed that India may be slightly behind in thinking out-of-the-box and embracing technology but even the US has not been much ahead in leveraging the new technologies that are available today.

Instead of banning the use of these technologies, Governments and Institutions should figure out ways to use them to their benefit especially when every child is addicted and no matter what you do spend thousands of hours using them.

Every technology has its pros and cons but what matters is creating an ecosystem and policy that channel the technology into constructive and creative forms. Although OLPC and the Intel Classmate PCs are striving hard to get into the classrooms, one thing that already exists with most children is the mobile phone. So why not take advantage of it?

You don’t need iPhones or BlackBerrys for education. There are many applications that can be built around simple mobile/cell phones (just by using SMS, MMS and Voice). Of course these educational mobile applications have to be built around the existing curriculum. Students that cannot afford mobile phones can be equipped with cheap recycled phones from developed nations. Moreover, partnerships with mobile operators¬† can help subsidize the usage costs. If policy makers feel that phones are a distraction in the class then they should at least encourage their usage outside of class and extend learning beyond the classroom.

M-learning as it is popularly known is being piloted in many developing nations and is proving to be of great value for children. Some of you may have heard about the text2teach BridgeIT initiative in Philippines (see video below) and other projects that are being piloted in Africa (read more about them).

Some simple educational applications on the mobile can include

Mobile Wikis: Students can query a wiki by sending in a term as a text message. The server then calls back the student and an automated voice reads the meaning and provides a short explanation. (Something like Wikipedia but tied into the curriculum).

Mobile Quizes: Multiple choice questions can be introduced after each chapter and students will be asked to answer them through text messaging. Right answers make the next questions tougher, while hints can be provided for wrong answers thus leading the student to the right one. This application which uses simple poll techniques.

Mobile Games: Games can be created based on the curriculum and introduced to the students. Celedu at MIT’s NextLAB is already building some applications based on this concept.

Mobile Journals: If the mobile phones are enabled with cameras, students can be asked to capture images on field trips or for their regular journals then send it to themselves using MMS. They can later put those together in their writeup and submit.

There are many more applications that can be built around the phones. It is just that the policy makers have to get out of their outdated shells and encourage entrepreneurs who are trying to build these technologies. More importantly, all of us, especially parents and teachers should be willing to embrace technology, try to channel it in the right direction and push the powers that be to adopt them in institutions.