The Role of Mobile Learning in Promoting Literacy and Human Rights for Women and Girls

The Role of Mobile Learning in Promoting Literacy and Human Rights for Women and Girls

Judith M. Dunkerly-Bean (Old Dominion University, USA) and Helen Crompton (Old Dominion University, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8310-5.ch023
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Abstract

In this chapter the authors review the fairly recent advances in combating illiteracy around the globe through the use of e-readers and mobile phones most recently in the Worldreader program and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) mobile phone reading initiatives. Situated in human rights and utilizing the lens of transnational feminist discourse which addresses globalization and the hegemonic, monolithic portrayals of “third world” women as passive and in need of the global North's intervention, the authors explore the ways in which the use of digital media provides increased access to books, and other texts and applications in both English and native languages for people in developing countries. However, while advances in combating illiteracy through the use of e-readers, mobile phones and other mobile learning initiatives are promising, the tensions and power imbalances of digital literacies, which resources are available by whom, for whom and why, must also be examined.
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Introduction

Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment through expression as well as a means to social, cultural and human development. Yet the nature and use of literacy, for whom, under which circumstances and for what purposes is a contentious question that depends greatly on the social views, cultural capital, politics, and temporality of both its teachers, students and the communities of discourse in which they participate (Foucault, 1972;Gee, 1996)). In short, who is considered literate and what literac(ies) are considered to be worth knowing are dependent on dominant societal, and in an age of globalization, transnational constructs.. Carl Kaestle (1991) points to the inherently social and political aspects of literacy in stating,

Literacy is discriminatory with regard to both access and content. Problems of discrimination are not resolved just because access is achieved; there is a cultural price tag to literacy. Thus, whether literacy is liberating or constraining depends in part whether it is used as an instrument of conformity or creativity. (p. 30)

That is to say that the mere access to literacy does not guarantee that access to the liberatory potential of literacy is achieved as well. Rather, access is a necessary but not sufficient condition for liberation.

In discussing the plurality of literacy and the nature of being literate, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) posits, “the way literacy is defined influences the goals and strategies adopted and the programs designed by policy makers as well as the teaching and learning methodologies curricula, and materials employed by practitioners. Its definition also determines how progress or achievements in overcoming illiteracy will be monitored or assessed” (UNESCO, 2004, p. 12). According to recent international data compiled by UNESCO, there are currently 773.5 million adults globally who are functionally illiterate. Of that number, 63.8% are women. 123.2 million children are illiterate, 61/3% of them are girls. The lowest literacy rates worldwide are found in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South and West Asia (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2013). The significance of these numbers to the struggle for the recognition of human rights for women cannot be ignored (Kelleher, 2014). Addressing global illiteracy, especially for women and girls is a necessary, but not sufficient component in recognizing the human rights, especially in regard to the education of all.

In this chapter we review the advances in combating illiteracy around the globe through the use of mobile learning initiatives such as e-readers and mobile phones, most recently in the Worldreader program as well as in UNESCO’s mobile reading initiatives (West & Chew, 2014). We utilize the lens of transnational feminist discourse (Hesford & Kozol, 2005; Swarr & Nagar, 2010) that addresses the effects of globalization and the hegemonic and monolithic portrayals of “third world” women as passive and in need of the global North’s intervention. Additionally, while advances in combating illiteracy through the use of e-readers and other mobile devices are promising, the tensions and power imbalances of digital literacies, especially in developing countries must also be examined. Intrinsic to this examination is the recognition of the multifaceted interconnections between global flows, particularly of information and ideas, when digital media “travel” from one locale to another, far removed not only in place but in resources and power as well.

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Background

Thus, to begin, we situate this review in the affordances and limitations of human rights discourse, especially as it relates to women and girls. Building upon the themes and tensions particular to the human rights discourse, we discuss the ways in which transnational feminisms speak to the effect of globalization and the contexts of both the local and the global, as well as the public and private sphere. Having established the lens in which we situate digital media in this review of the literature, we explore mobile learning initiatives as sites where the promise of digital media may have to attend to concerns around the “reproduction of gender, class and racial inequality” (Blackmore, 2005; p. 244) even as they strive for global literacy.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Non-Government Organization (NGO): A citizen-based association that operates independent of governments, typically to deliver resources or serve a social or political purpose. NGOs may be classified as either operational NGOs, which usually address development projects, or advocacy NGOs, which are concerned with promoting a cause.

Literacy: Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment through expression as well as a means to social, cultural and human development. Broadly defined, it is the ability to read, comprehend and act upon a variety of texts and contexts.

Education for All (EFA): A UNESCO initiative and global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth and adults. At the World Education Forum (Dakar, 2000 AU82: The in-text citation "Dakar, 2000" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ), 164 governments pledged to achieve EFA and identified six goals to be met by 2015.

Mobile Learning: The utilization of mobile devices to provide learning to those who have been previously unable to access traditional learning opportunities for reasons of location, finance, disability, or infrastructure.

Globalization: A condition of the permeability of social, economic and political borders. It is characterized by the extensive movement or flow of information, ideas, images, capital, and people across increasingly permeable political borders due to economic and technological change.

Human Rights: The idea of human rights recognized today was established with the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 written after the Second World War. The primary intent of the document was to prevent a recurrence of the human rights travesties that occurred during WWII. However, the UDHR also provides for the recognition of 30 human rights, including the right to education.

Transnational Feminisms: This wave of feminism has emerged largely as a response to international and global feminism. It speaks to the hegemonic and monolithic portrayal of “Third World women” as passive victims. Instead, it aims to recast and highlight activism and agency in such a way that transnational solidarity and collaborations can be reached.

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