Mobiles for Literacy

Adult literacy mLearning on simple mobile phones

2011 – present: The Ustad Mobile (‘mobile teacher’) Literacy mLearning project emerged out of recognition that the ideal vehicle to make literacy education software widely and inexpensively available to the people of Afghanistan wasn’t the computer —it was the mobile phone, the only ICT device available at an affordable price to the majority of Afghans, including those who are non-literate and living far from urban centers.

P1000551aWith a grant from the U.S. State Department, Paiwastoon developed Ustad Mobile Literacy, an application that runs offline on the simple feature phones available in small mobile shops and bazaars throughout the country. In less than a year, Paiwastoon adapted the entire national literacy curriculum —from the first letter of the alphabet through grade 3 literacy and numeracy, in both Dari and Pashto. It can be installed as easily as a dictionary or any other simple app on any phone with a memory card.

Ustad Mobil Literacy phone screens

Ustad Mobile Literacy has been approved by the Ministry of Education and is now being used by literacy classes of adult women and Afghan National Army recruits in Kabul. It takes users from the first letter of the alphabet through grade 3 literacy and numeracy and includes hours of narrated instruction, reading comprehension exercises, quizzes, educational games, and video clips for visual learners.

This application is not intended to replace actual teachers, but rather to add value to their work. However, if no instructor is available, Ustad Mobile provides the opportunity for learning on the user’s schedule, which can be especially beneficial to Afghan women.

The built-in metrics functionality of Ustad Mobile enables reporting of a user’s learning time and quiz scores over bluetooth to her or his teacher’s phone. With an additional basic monthly data package (costing around 5.00 USD), a teacher’s phone can easily transmit statistics from remote project sites to a secure online database, enabling real-time monitoring of education and training projects from anywhere in the world.

Ustad Mobile has been featured in Afghanistan Today,, the AFP, and NBC’s Photoblog. It was the the subject of Paiwastoon CEO Mike Dawson’s mEducation Alliance presentation in September 2012 and his talk at TEDxKabul in October 2012.

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