Hundreds of millions of children in emerging markets do not have access to high-quality education. Increasing access to powerful smartphones provides interesting opportunities to increase learning and access to information. In this article we use Colombia to illustrate the broader potential of mobile phones to power learning.


Smartphone landscape in Colombia

Colombia is the third largest smartphone market in Latin America:

  • 70% of the population own a mobile phone (2016)
  • 40% of the population are smartphone users (2016)
  • By 2019 it’s predicted that 70% of all mobile phones will be smartphones; and
  • Users could access 3G or better data speeds 85% of the time in 2016 (compared with 92% in the US)

The Colombian government has launched the ‘Vive Digital Colombia’ initiative. This is a four-year plan to achieve “widespread adoption of internet and the development of a nationwide digital ecosystem.” The goal of this initiative is to enable internet access in 60% of Colombian households by 2018 (vs. 50% in 2015 – the European average is around 68%).

Opportunities for educational technology

Smartphone penetration in Colombia is representative of many markets globally. In Colombia, many families lack access to options to improve their children’s learning. Educational apps can supplement school learning, with substantial potential for scale.

"While there are many apps out there, few are well suited to this market." 

Research of educational applications in emerging markets reveals a lack of apps which combine all of the following four features:

  1. Highly effective at supporting learning: This requires significant technical innovation to effectively tailor the mobile learning experience to the needs of individual users.
  2. Adapted to the realities of emerging market users: For instance, they address constraints around low levels of hardware and connectivity.
  3. Engaging and appealing: Users are more likely to continue using the app if they interact with, and enjoy the experience.
  4. Priced very affordably: Many families spend a large proportion of their income trying to help their children succeed academically, yet many options remain financially prohibitive.

Standards of education are currently highly skewed in favour of the developed world. Smartphones can facilitate access to a range of resources which empower students to improve their education and consequently, their lives.  


About the Author(s) 

Jonny Barty works with Acasus developing education systems in South America. Fenton Whelan founded Acasus and has more than a decade of experience in public health and education development.