Hope is on the Horizon? The potential of mobile technology to break barriers of access to primary education for girls in Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea is a small country with both continental and island territory located in west central Africa. A colony of Spain until 1968, Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa.
From 1968 to 1979 former President Francisco Macias was instrumental in dismantling the system of education in the country and many children went without education during that period and a few years afterward (World Bank, 1987). When current President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo ascended to power in 1982, the government was eventually able to begin giving attention to and seeking resources for rebuilding the education system in Equatorial Guinea in order to develop an educated workforce.
In 2007, as part of formalized plans to develop education in Equatorial Guinea, the country created a document called Diagnostico Estratégico y la Visión de los Ejes Estratégicos de Guinea Ecuatorial al horizonte 2020 (Strategic Diagnosis and the Vision for the Strategic Axes of Equatorial Guinea to the year 2020). The policy document is more widely known by the name the “Equatorial Guinea Horizon 2020” plan. This plan describes what the Equatoguinean government wants the country to look like in the year 2020, with visions for a variety of sectors, including education. Much of the agenda for education development in the Equatorial Guinea Horizon 2020 plan is drawn from UNESCO’s Education for All mandates and contains references to the need to improve basic education access for all children and particularly for girls (Republic of Equatorial Guinea, 2007).
So which education development initiatives might be useful to meet the goal of a bright future on the horizon for all children in Equatorial Guinea by the year 2020, including girls? Mobile technology applied for the purposes to provide learning opportunities might be one possible consideration given the geographical challenges that presently make universal access a struggle.
Equatorial Guinea has seven provinces. The two main provinces, Bioko Norte, which is home to the nation’s island capital of Malabo, and Litoral Province, home to the nation’s unofficial continental capital of Bata, are the most developed. As a result, policies in education normally begin with studies of these two provinces without much attention given to the underdeveloped island provinces or lesser-known continental provinces (Programa de Desarrollo Educativo de Guinea Ecuatorial (PRODEGE) and El Ministerio de Educación, Ciencia, y Deportes (MECD), 2008, p. 14).
If educational policies are to succeed in improving access to primary education for every child in Equatorial Guinea by the year 2020, the contexts and challenges of all provinces need consideration, and all possible methods of bridging access should be explored.
While mobile phone access is not yet ubiquitous given the population totals just over 736,000 people (World Bank, 2013a) with approximately 67.7 mobile subscriptions for every 100 people in 2012 (World Bank, 2013b), the practice of sharing mobile phones is not altogether uncommon based on my observations from when I lived there for a year between 2007-2008.
Although it definitely should not be seen as a silver bullet given the myriad problems afflicting the country’s education system, the mobile phone could provide immediate, personalized access to primary education for girls and boys in Equatorial Guinea. Furthermore, given the proliferation of primary school materials in the national language, Spanish, as well as the potential to customize materials in local languages, some of the basic issues of providing content in a language the learners understand can be addressed.
As evidence grows for the potential benefits of mobile learning, including for teachers, for places in Equatorial Guinea beyond and even including Malabo and Bata, primary education access facilitated with mobile technology could form a tool in a wide range of solutions to address education delivery challenges related to geography. Increasing the number of educational options available to the Latin@s living in Equatorial Guinea is a matter of urgency not only as it relates to the Millennium Development Goals, but also in terms of educational inclusion more broadly. The question is: Does anyone dare to realize this possibility?
*Author is a PhD student in Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) at Royal Holloway, University of London, which is the UNESCO Chair in ICT for Development. She is an expert in gender, learning and mobiles, and advocates participatory and sustainable approaches to the use of mobiles for educational purposes. Previous M4D reports authored by Ms. Zelezny-Green have received recognition from Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, and infoDev (World Bank). She currently works on the GSMA mEducation team as the Knowledge Manager. Find her on Twitter at @GlamLeo or visit her website: http://rondazg.com/
- Programa de Desarrollo Educativo de Guinea Ecuatorial (PRODEGE) and El Ministerio de Educación, Ciencia, y Deportes (MECD). (2008). El Anuario Estadístico de la Educación Primaria [The Yearbook of Primary Education Statistics). Malabo and Bata, Equatorial Guinea: Programa de Desarrollo Educativo de Guinea Ecuatorial (PRODEGE).
- Republic of Equatorial Guinea. (2007, May). Diagnostico Estratégico y la Visión de los Ejes Estratégicos de Guinea Ecuatorial al horizonte 2020 . Retrieved August 29, 2010, from Equatorial Guinea Justice: http://egjustice.org/files/Plan%20Nacional%20de%20Desarollo%20Economico%202007.pdf
- World Bank (1987). Memorandum and Recommendation of the President of the International Development Association to the Executive Directors on a Proposed Credit of SDR 4.1 million to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea for a Primary Education Project. Washington: The World Bank.
- World Bank. (2013, December 17). Mobile cellular subscriptions (per 100 people) in Equatorial Guinea.Retrieved from World Bank – Data: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.CEL.SETS.P2/countries/GQ?display=graph
- World Bank. (2013, December 17). Population (Total). Retrieved from World Bank – Data: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL