Mobile users in Bangladesh have accessed more than 1 million English lessons using a new service, BBC Janala (‘Window’), which is promising to transform the way people learn language through m-technology in the developing world. Launched in just November 2009 by the BBC World Service Trust, the service has proved hugely popular with the country’s growing 50 million mobile users, many of whom want to learn English to improve their access to the global economy.
The first of its kind in the world, BBC Janala has turned the mobile phone into a low-cost education device by offering hundreds of 3 minute audio lessons and SMS quizzes through people’s handsets. By simply dialling 3000, almost anyone can learn with new classes each day ranging from: ‘Essential English’ for beginners, to ‘How to tell a story’ for those more advanced.
With 39% of callers returning to the service, BBC Janala has outperformed the majority of other value added mobile products in Bangladesh which typically achieve a 5% return of customers. The beginner’s content is experiencing a 69% repeat rate. To date 1,030,583 lessons have been accessed, with users engaging with Janala’s interactive services - including audio quizzes, English story recording and direct feedback - an additional 130,000 times.
Part of its success is the price, with the BBC teaming up with all of Bangladesh’s mobile operators to offer a national service at half the cost of a typical call or SMS - just 1 Taka (1 pence) a minute. Learning has also surged online at bbcjanala.com, where a virtual community, already with over 17,000 registered users, has been able to access content for free and interact with learners around the world.
Sara Chamberlain, Head of Interactive for the BBC World Service Trust speaking at the GSMA World Mobile Congress in Barcelona said: “We knew demand for English was strong in Bangladesh, but the response to BBC Janala has been nothing short of phenomenal. The growth of mobile is clearly creating an opportunity to provide access to education in a way simply not possible before.”
BBC Janala is aimed at younger people living on less than £2 a day, who have missed out on decent English teaching at school and are not able to afford expensive tuition. Many within the mobile industry are watching to see if BBC Janala can provide one of the first economically viable models for educational learning technology in the developing world.
Dawn Haig-Thomas, Development Fund Director, GSMA explains: "BBC Janala delivers education in a remarkable way. Mobile is the most ubiquitous communications platform and an incredibly innovative tool. By providing tangible, accessible and necessary mobile services to people in developing countries, mobile can help improve people’s lives.”
A BBC survey found 84% of Bangladeshis consider English essential to securing a good job and educating their children, suggesting the service has the potential to support significantly more learners.
The project is funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) through English in Action, a major educational initiative launched to raise the language skills of 25 million people in Bangladesh by 2017.