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McGraw Hill Gets In On the Mobile Education Market

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A couple of timely education items hit my inbox this morning. First, a report suggests that U.S. students suck at science. From the report,”less than one-half of students are demonstrating solid academic performance and competency over challenging subject matter.” Granted, ‘science’ is an extremely broad term and encompasses many different disciplines, but the gist of that report is pretty troubling. This might be a good time to remind readers of Scitable, Nature Publishing Group’s free online science library. Although limited in scope to genetics, cell biology and ecology, they’ve been growing since last we covered them, with many new articles as well as a new guide to life science careers and English Communication for Scientists. The latter, alone, should be worth your time today.

Also word comes today that McGraw Hill is jumping into the mobile education market with their upcoming mConnect platform: “an open-standard mobile learning platform designed to bridge the skills gap in emerging markets.” mConnect will initially roll out in India, and will, much like Scitable, have a strong focus on cellphone-as-learning-device. Specific details are lacking right now, but mConnect looks to be a more general education initiative.

Here’s the press release:

McGraw-Hill and Wipro to Develop mConnect — an Affordable Mobile Learning Platform — to Reduce Skills Gap in Emerging Markets

Announcement Made at World Economic Forum Where Global Talent Crisis to be Major Focus

DAVOS, SWITZERLAND, January 26, 2011— The McGraw-Hill Companies (NYSE: MHP), a premier global financial information and education company, and Wipro, a leading technology solutions provider, will work together to develop “mConnect,” an open-standard mobile learning platform designed to bridge the skills gap in emerging markets. Initial pilots in India will focus on the most critical needs for India’s students and workers: test preparation for entrance into universities that will best prepare them for the workplace and English-language training, an increasingly essential skill in the global economy. The intention is to extend this program later to other countries in Asia and in Africa.

mConnect will offer low-income, rural or otherwise underserved students and workers personalized, adaptive education and assessment programs that can provide direct feedback in multiple modalities through cell phones, laptops and other mobile devices. For students who want to establish and advance their careers by learning English, for example, mConnect will provide opportunities to hear conversations, review new vocabulary delivered via SMS and get personalized instruction that customizes the pace and presentation of material to match their learning needs.

“Through advances in mobile learning, McGraw-Hill and Wipro have an unprecedented opportunity to deliver high-quality, low-cost education to students and workers in rural areas and cities with limited access to resources,” said Harold McGraw III, chairman, president and CEO of The McGraw-Hill Companies, who made the announcement in Davos. “In a country with more than 700 million cell phones, mobile learning will help level the playing field for education in India in ways never before possible. The success of our pilots in India will serve as a powerful example of how business, schools and governments around the world can harness the power of mobile learning to give more people the skills to succeed in the global Knowledge Economy.”

“High-quality education is fundamental to the growth of a nation. We at Wipro are fully committed to launching the next generation of educational ideas and tools—leveraging the potential of our connected world—mobile devices, laptops, pads and other devices,” said Azim Premji, Chairman Wipro Ltd. “The goal is to use mConnect as a way to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and reach of education across the globe. We have made this an area of strategic investment and are honored, as a long-term partner of McGraw-Hill, to be part of this unique opportunity – to blend our expertise in technology along with world-class educational systems and content. This is a business initiative that we both believe can truly make a positive difference.” Mr. Premji is also in Davos where he will join Mr. McGraw in leading a World Economic Forum discussion to address the global talent crisis.

India provides an important development ground for mConnect. The country is home to a growing, young workforce hungry for access to high-quality education to improve their career prospects. According to mobileyouth.org, by 2012, one in five of all mobile phones in use worldwide will be owned by a young person in India. Currently, one hundred million mobile phones are owned by youth in rural areas who use them an average of 5.5 hours per day. Even within the population of Indian students with access to university education, according to a recent World Economic Forum report on the global talent crisis, only 25 percent of those graduates are considered employable by multinational companies today. Given this staggering data, mobile learning is uniquely positioned to overcome historic boundaries of distance, infrastructure and economic status, and harness the prolific and growing use of mobile devices to engage these myriad audiences.

Specifically, mobile learning offers the ability to:

  • Bring learning directly to the student, thereby bridging the geographic distances between students and their schools
  • Allow learners to study anywhere and at anytime, improving their ability to balance work and study
  • Personalize and customize instruction by providing a means for teachers to provide relevant, individualized feedback to every student according to his ability to receive it both personally and technically
  • Encourage feedback and early intervention by teachers
  • Centralize curricula and ensure that content is continually updated
  • Create a more engaging, interactive experience, which has been shown to foster better learning outcomes

“We are excited by the potential of mobile learning, which will free educational institutions from the constraints of geography, space and even time, and will enable us to deliver affordable, quality education to large numbers of aspiring students anytime, anywhere,” said Dr. Ajit Rangnekar, Dean of the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad.

Amitava Bose, professor and former director of the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta, added, “Modern economic growth is being driven less and less by raw labor power and more and more by skilled manpower. There is a shortage of skills but a large reservoir of labor waiting to be tapped. The proposed partnership between McGraw-Hill and Wipro should help speed up the required transformation of unskilled to skilled manpower by significantly increasing accessibility of training — in English-language proficiency and other necessary skills — among the younger population.”

Most cell phones in emerging markets today, including India, are SMS-based, 2G phones. In the near future, analysts foresee an era when inexpensive mobile devices and phones will offer web-browsing capabilities. These devices will usher in a new era of mobile education applications, and mConnect will be well-positioned to help students acquire the sought-after skills required by employers.

Additional Facts and Figures about Mobile Device Market:

  • There are 5.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide. (Source: International Telecommunications Union)
  • In the developing world, mobile cellular penetration rates to reach 68% at the end of 2010—mainly driven by the Asia and Pacific region. (Source: International Telecommunications Union)
  • By 2013, the number of smart phones worldwide will surpass PCs, 1.82 billion to 1.78 billion. (Source: Gartner Research)
  • There are 833 million cell phone subscribers in China. (Source: Reuters)
  • In India, there are 706 million cell phone subscribers, equivalent to about 60% of the population. (Source: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India)

About McGraw-Hill Education:

McGraw-Hill Education is a premier provider of teaching and learning programs for 21st century post-secondary and education markets worldwide. Through a comprehensive range of traditional and digital education content and tools, McGraw-Hill Education empowers educators and prepares professionals and students of all ages to connect, learn and succeed in the global economy. McGraw-Hill Education, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies has offices in 33 countries and publishes in more than 65 languages. Additional information is available at http://www.mheducation.com/.

About The McGraw-Hill Companies:

McGraw-Hill is a global education and financial information company with leading brands including McGraw-Hill Education, Standard & Poor’s, CRISIL, Platts, and J.D. Power. These brands share a commitment to creating a smarter, better world where everyone can succeed in the knowledge economy. Around the world, the company is serving this mission by personalizing education around the needs of students, and by providing the financial and business information that markets need to grow. With approximately 21,000 employees worldwide, McGraw-Hill has more than 280 offices in 40 countries. Wherever the company operates, it is committed to responsible business practices that enhance the economic, social and environmental well-being of the communities where we work and live.

Investor Relations: http://www.mcgraw-hill.com/investor_relations

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About Wipro:

Wipro Limited provides comprehensive IT solutions and services, including systems integration, information systems outsourcing, IT enabled services, package implementation, software application development and maintenance, and research and development services to corporations globally.

Personally, I’m a little skeptical of the value of learning through a cell phone, but I’m fully aware that my skepticism is born from all of the economic and social advantages available to me as a middle-class white guy living in the U.S. I don’t know how I would feel about the whole proposition if I were a low-income student starving for intellectual development in a third-world nation. I think, even then, that I’d still prefer instructor-led education from a trained educator, but if that’s not available then I guess self-paced learning on my cell phone beats no learning at all…

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