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Training, using simple mobile technologies, works

In India, BBC Media Action has illustrated that engaging health content delivered over Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems to community health workers is an effective training method.

Photo of Hima Batavia
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High quality, standardized training – anywhere, anytime.

Mobile Academy uses mobile technology that is handset independent, audio based and accessed via a simple voice call to train India's 1 million community health workers to deliver life-saving information to millions of families

Community Health Workers in India are committed to reducing maternal and child mortality rates.

However, most health workers are neither highly educated nor well off. Their abilities are limited by remoteness from centres of learning, and educational and financial status. Their time is limited by family obligations.

What option, then, is available to a health worker who is keen to further develop her knowledge and skills?

Learning at convenience

Mobile Academy was designed specifically with these conditions in mind. It is an audio training course designed to expand health workers’ knowledge of life saving preventative health behaviours, and enhance their communication skills

A health worker can take the course by dialing a short mobile number from any mobile handset. The service is available across Bihar, with five of the largest mobile operators in India – Airtel, Idea, TATA, Reliance and Vodafone.

The course is delivered in the voice of an engaging yet authoritative female doctor character, called Dr Anita. It consists of nine chapters, 36 lessons and nine quizzes covering nine lifesaving behaviours. Health workers receive an accumulative pass or fail score at the end of the course; they can repeat lessons, chapters and quizzes as many times as they like.

Health workers can take the course as quickly or slowly as they like. Book marking technology remembers where they were when they last hung up, and returns them to this place when they dial again.

If they complete the course with a 50 per cent pass mark, they receive a printed certificate from the Government of Bihar.

Health workers pay for the 160 minute course themselves. At less than one cent a minute, the total cost is approximately $1.50.

Mobile Academy was developed in consultation with health workers, via an iterative user-centered design process. Those who take the course find it easy and convenient to do so. They say that it increases their confidence and their ability to help rural women and children.

During the first 12 months of the project, 27,000 people called Mobile Academy, listening to 2.9 million minutes of educational health content. Ten thousand of these listeners successfully completed the course. Mobile Academy is now being scaled across India.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Leigh Cullen

Hi Hima,

Great post! Meena pointed out you and I have similar posts on how mobile tech is being used to train and place women in valuable career paths.

The post Meena is referring to:

Reaching out to see if you want to brainstorm around this some more? I came across another similar organization this weekend which I'll try to post about today... The organization follows an analogous model (to your post), which is used in Uganda, Ghana, and Colombia in agriculturally sustained communities. Their process: The org selects a "Community Knowledge Worker (CKW)" who is local to a specific community and who is also a farmer. The CKW researches local farming issues–crops and animal well-being and disease. The CKW's goal is to then establish community trust and get voted in *by that community* to aid that community with agriculture types of issues/questions. The correct, timely diagnosis of disease by the CKW, via mobile technology provided by the organization and partnering orgs, in turn enables individuals in the community to preserve and bolster income. And I believe the CKW is paid (by the org)...

All best,

Photo of Hima Batavia

Thanks Leigh! I would love to brainstorm some more. I've heard of the model you're referring too -- its led by Grameen right? I think there is a lot to learn from it -- especially the online/offline integration, and the philosophy of using mobile tools to enable community processes. The BBC example is similar in the sense that mobile tools enable CHWs educate women. When it comes to youth unemployment, who is the frontline force that tools could enable? Career counsellors, tutors, teachers? I can see something like offline training materials, supplemented with mobile-driven testing + mentorship, could support more decentralized certification. The question is -- on what skills does this work for?


Photo of Leigh Cullen

Yep, Grameen is the organization. I just pulled some info together about Grameen's "Community Knowledge Worker" program and posted it. And yes, there are definitely parallels to both programs.

The key component seems to be educating "mentors" or "knowledge workers" directly within each community. Already trusted members of the community, these "change instigators" can sustain momentum locally. From everything I've been reading, youth can be pretty powerful "change instigators" themselves since they are eager adopters (and teachers) of technology. I think the actual "course/training materials" would have to be tailored to each community based on the needs of each community... Definitely food for more thought... How to adapt, tailor, and scale....

Photo of Hima Batavia

Yeah, thats a good point regarding youth as intrinsic change instigators. I guess the commonality between the Grameen and BBC programs are that they used existing community infrastructure (CKWs and CHWs), and enabled them with tech - and then found cross-cutting issues (maternal health, and new agriculture practices). So perhaps those are also some questions to consider -- who are existing community leaders / youth leaders that can be enabled with technology, and what are cross-cutting training and employment opportunities across many communities in a single country, where the architecture of content can remain 80% the same.

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