On Call: Using Cell Phones to Provide Education in Emergencies – Global

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education systems around the world, leading to an unprecedented emergency with school closures affecting 1.6 billion learners (Azevedo et al., 2021). This has highlighted the need for resilient education systems capable of providing education in the face of emergencies and school closures (UNICEF, 2021). The challenge of reaching and educating children when schooling is disrupted is not new to education in emergencies (EiE) practitioners designing and implementing programs in complex crises with limited resources.
By mid-2021, more than 84 million people had been forcibly displaced worldwide, of whom 42% (about 35 million) were children under the age of 18 (UNHCR, 2022). Over the past two years, it has become clear that, for distance learning, the use of technology that families own and use regularly significantly reduces barriers to accessing education and increases the use of distance learning activities (UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia, 2020).

One tool that many families own is a mobile phone.1 Basic, low-cost mobile phones can be used in humanitarian settings to support remote learning and are essential where access to connectivity and devices is more expensive such as laptops is limited. The portability of cell phones, combined with their communication features, offer multiple uses in EiE.

This report explores the use of mobile phones in EiE environments by combining a review of existing literature with commentary and interviews with EiE practitioners on two key questions:

  1. How can basic mobile phones be used to support EiE learning programs and teacher training?

  2. What are the key practices undertaken by education practitioners to improve the equity and safety of mobile-based education programs?

The implementation of an education program would be incomplete without an evaluation of learning. Additionally, can cell phones themselves be used to measure learning in EiE environments? Although this issue is beyond the scope of this report, it is explored in the second report in the series: On Call: Using Mobile Technologies to Measure Learning in Emergencies.

The companion report outlines key implementation steps and uses of mobile devices to meet learning assessment needs in emergencies.
In addition to this report, an interactive dashboard2 of case studies has been developed to provide practitioners with examples of how mobile phones have been used in education for tutoring, learning support and teacher training. The dashboard can be used to filter case studies based on various usage, application, geography, and education parameters.

Read the full report