The United Nations Educational, Scientiﬁc and Cultural Organization has made an agreement with the University of Jyväskylä about a UNESCO Chair on Inclusive Literacy Learning for All. The University has appointed Professor Heikki Lyytinen as UNESCO Professor to work for this global goal, and the Agora Center coordinates the actions.
Recent reports of international development have revealed new crises in African schools. The number of children with school access has increased but actual learning outcomes are poor or non-existent. Globally 130 million children have remained illiterate despite several years at school. Even graduating primary school does not ensure that basic literacy skills have been acquired. While there are multiple reasons for these shortcomings, it is obvious that learning outcomes will not improve without stronger emphasis on evidence-based policies, scientifically valid instruction methods and effective teacher training programs.
Learning literacy by mobile gaming
The mission of the new UNESCO Professor Heikki Lyytinen is to help children globally, specifically in Africa, to learn to read. Although it may seem surprising in the African context, the new approach for promoting literacy and providing learning materials for children and training materials for teachers is by using mobile technology such as mobile phones and tablets. It is acknowledged that in Africa most people use mobile phones for reading and writing. Very few have books but majority have mobile phones and are increasingly using the internet with them.
– Information on learning to read and reading materials in African languages should be available for free. This can be best secured if we use the modern mobile technology, Lyytinen confirms. Mobile game-based learning is also a known Finnish strength.
For this purpose, the GraphoGame™, a mobile game-based learning method is developed by Lyytinen’s team in the Agora Center of the University of Jyväskylä, together with the Niilo Mäki Institute. The method has been proven efficient already in Finland nationally, and in several other countries in pilot studies. The method is based on new scientific understanding of learning to read: literacy instruction methods need to be language-specific and matched with the type of orthography in each language.
Empowering researchers in Africa
There are many challenging factors in African schools but lack of scientific knowledge should not be one them. Quality in education cannot be improved without capacity building in human sciences. Scientific research on learning has to happen in Africa by African people to ensure that the results are meaningful for the local societies.
– Educational challenges in Africa will not be conquered without multidisciplinary, international scientific research in human sciences. Supporting young African scholars in their career is of paramount importance, Heikki Lyytinen points out. The first two African scholars defended their doctoral dissertations related to our GraphoGame™ activities in August 2014. (Read more here and here )
– To reach our goal, we have established the GraphoWorld Network of Excellence together with top researchers throughout the world, says Professor Lyytinen. – However, our goal is enormous and we are constantly seeking for additional support and resources. Welcome to join this collaboration and dialogue on language, literacy and learning, and ICT-solutions for promoting literacy in African languages!
Read more about GraphoGame™ and activities in Africa:
Human Technology: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Humans in ICT Environments – Special Issue on Supporting Urgent Basic Reading Skills in Children May 2014