Afghan female police to improve literacy through mobile phone programme

16 Apr 2013

Afghan female police to improve literacy through mobile phone programme

KABUL - Afghan police women will be able to use their mobile phones to improve their literacy through a United Nations-backed programme which helps them overcome some of the challenges they face in balancing their work and studies.

Initiated by the Police Advisory Unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the pilot programme – Ustad Mobile – adapts the Afghan national literacy curriculum into a format suitable for camera mobile phones.

Through narrated demonstration slides, videos, multiple-choice quizzes and educational games, the programme provides lessons, in the Dari and Pashto languages, which complement those provided in the adult literacy curriculum of Afghanistan's Ministry of Education. There are also text books available to help students and teachers with the lessons.

It is estimated that between 70 to 80 per cent of the Afghan National Police (ANP) are illiterate, with women accounting for just over 1,500, or one per cent, of the 149,000-strong ANP force.

According to the UNAMA Police Advisory unit, Ustad Mobile helps women police officers overcome some of the challenges they face in improving their literacy skills. These include the fact that there are usually only a few police women working out of any one police station and their shifts often cannot accommodate regular class schedules. In addition, most police women are uncomfortable in a co-educational class, and their commanders may not be fully supportive of the idea of women becoming literate.

A workshop on how to use the programme was held in the capital, Kabul, on Monday, and attended by 13 female police officers who serve as gender focal points in 11 provincial offices of the Ministry of Interior (MoI).

“It is beneficial for police officers. They are excited about the programme,” said Colonel Rana Hamidzada, the MoI gender focal point for Kabul province.

Some 200 mobile phones with the programme’s software will be distributed to police officers in the 11 provinces, which include Bamyan and Kunduz, as well as Kabul. A student needs to spend more than 100 hours to complete all the lessons contained in the literacy programme, with each lesson requiring about 30 minutes. The lessons start at the elementary level and go all the way up to intermediate levels.

The programme has been piloted with other groups of women working in the field of security.

“The feedback has been positive” said Mike Dawson, the Chief Executive Officer of Paiwastoon Networking Services, which designed the Ustad Mobile software. “We expect that students reach level three which enable them to read and write”.

The students’ progress will be evaluated by teachers who will be able to remotely collect data submitted via the mobile phones on a weekly basis – the data will contain test scores and usage time, and will then be sent for further assessment by Paiwastoon Networking Services.

“The phone is easy to use, and I did not have difficulties in completing the exercises,” said Ajmal Faqiri, from MoI office in Kunduz province. “But perhaps for older police officers, who are not familiar with a mobile phone, this may be challenging.”

Related article:

- UN in Afghanistan works to build capacity of women police and access to justice for women, children