The literacy rate of women in Afghanistan is among the lowest in the world, with UNESCO reporting only 24 percent of women over the age of 15 as literate in 2015. The Afghan Institute for Learning (AIL) has led a creative initiative to combat low literacy rates among women. The initiative brings mobile phones into the picture to be used alongside classroom teaching for women in rural communities. At the start of the four-month program, 80 percent of the students could only recognize the basic alphabet at best. After the four months, 80 percent were able to read at a fourth grade level or higher.
AIL was the first NGO to start learning centers for women in Afghan refugee camps and has continued to work to provide education to women across Afghanistan for over a decade. Their learning centers train teachers, provide health education, and lead other workshops for women. The Mobile Literacy Program was combined with AIL literacy courses in 2006 to bring the course from a nine-month period to only four months by using mobile phones to encourage active engagement within and outside of the classroom. Messages are sent to students with fill-in-the-blank problems or open-ended critical thinking questions, and each student is provided with a mobile phone with enough credit to complete assignments. Around 1,000 girls have already completed the program.
AIL is faced with the challenge of earning the trust of rural communities in the usage of mobile phones, especially by young women. They work to include members of the community to advocate among families and to employ trusted local teachers. Women enrolled are also able to build communities and communicate with their peers. Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder and president of the Afghan Institute of Learning said in an article for the Huffington Post, “The impact that access to mobile phones and knowledge of how to use them has on Afghan women is far greater than just accelerating literacy. The women can build and maintain relationships with other women to whom they are not related, something that is incredibly difficult in Afghan society. When women have access to mobile phones, they build a network of friends. Friends who share information, ideas, hopes and dreams.”