by Cindy Carter

Mobile learners, not mobile phones

Can technology improve the employability of our youth?

A stronger focus on mobile learners and not mobile phones
Education goes digital

Governemnt attention has shifted sharply toward two areas over the past couple of years: youth and employment. While the huge increase in the 15- to 24-year-old population of some countries offers an opportunity for catalysing change and bringing in fresh ideas and new energy, many are grappling with the challenge of providing the youth with meaningful work opportunities.

To some extent, there is concern about the growing number of youth who are disillusioned about their future.

It was reported that 74.8-million youth between 15 and 24 years were unemployed in 2011, an increase of more than 4 million since 2007. Globally, the youth unemployment rate is almost 13%, and youth are nearly three times as likely as adults to be unemployed. In some countries, there are no jobs. In others, there is a skills mismatch - and with some quality soft and hard skills training and support, young people could be ready for existing, unfilled jobs.

In parallel to the increase in youth unemployment around the world, mobile technologies have seen tremendous growth. The use of mobile devices to connect youth to education, workforce training and development, as well as job opportunities seems an obvious solution. Training youth with skills in information and communication technology (ICT) appears to be a quick fix that could resolve the skills gap.

But research into ICTs shows a different picture. A 2009 meta study in the United States determined that "ICT skills are almost never the missing link that miraculously transforms employment prospects." It goes on to note that lower wage, lower skill workers face a multitude of other barriers that are much more complex than unfamiliarity with ICTs, and that "ICT literacy cannot be isolated from larger social and personal contexts. Soft skills as well as solutions to challenges such as childcare, transportation, time, and appropriate attire are important."

More recently, it has been noted that the evidence for what works in mobile education and mobiles for workforce development is not fully developed or clear. We can, however, draw from past evaluations and what seems to be working in smaller pilot programmes and make some assumptions.

Those working with youth and workforce development should be asking: what lessons can we apply from past workforce development efforts? What new opportunities and technologies exist on which we can capitalise? And how can youth, governments, private sector, non-governmental organisations, training and education centres and other key actors find the sweet spot that enables young people to take advantage of the new landscape, yet ensures the necessary corollary elements are in place to lead to meaningful and sustainable work?

The widespread availability of mobile technologies may be able to transform some aspects of education and workforce development. What they should be thinking about is the learner, not the interface, being mobile - less device-specific research and more focus on understanding mobile learners, who will want or need to access and contribute content from a number of devices and locations.

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Issue 58