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Document Abstract
Published: 2015

Mobile phones and education in Sub-Saharan Africa: from youth practice to public policy

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Young people's use of mobile phones is expanding exponentially across Africa. Its transformative potential is exciting, but findings presented in this paper indicate how the downside of mobile phone use in African schools is becoming increasingly apparent. Drawing on mixed-methods field research in 24 sites across Ghana, Malawi and South Africa and associated discussions with educational institutions, public policy makers and network providers, we examine the current state of play and offer suggestions towards a more satisfactory alignment of practice and policy which promotes the more positive aspects of phone use in educational contexts and militates against more damaging ones.

Through this paper, the authors aim to contribute to demands for a more substantial body of evidence in African contexts. Mixed-methods field research in 24 sites across Ghana, Malawi and South Africa and associated discussions with mobile phone network providers, educational institutions and policy makers suggests that while there are some positive aspects of mobile phone use for African pupils, their downside is also becoming increasingly apparent, especially in urban and peri-urban sites.

This research start with some background details (key literature, study methodology and phone ownership and usage), and then charts available evidence of positive educational value of mobile phones in the research sites before moving on to examine a range of negative impacts associated with youth (and teacher) practice. The paper then asks how, and to what extent, should and can public policy address issues such as phone-related classroom disruption (whether caused by pupil or teachers' phones), lengthy periods spent by young people on social network sites, disruption in adolescent sleep patterns associated with cheap night calls and widespread circulation of pornography? The final section of the paper considers the potential to address some of the most negative aspects of phone use in educational contexts and to promote more positive aspects through engagement with policy makers.

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