Mobile-Based Post Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Pakistan


181,193,000 (2013)

Official Languages

Urdu, Pashto, English, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi

Poverty (Population living on less than US$2.00 per day)

45% (2013)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

2.5 (2013)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

Total: 72.9% (2014)
Male: 78.6%
Female: 66.9%

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

Total: 73.7% (2015)
Male: 80.2%
Female: 66.8%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2010 - 2011)

Total: 56.4% (2015)
Male: 69.5%
Female: 42.7%


UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Programme Overview

Programme TitleMobile-Based Post Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationUNESCO Islamabad
Language of InstructionUrdu
Programme PartnersPunjab Department of Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education, Lahore; BUNYAD Foundation, Lahore; Dhaka Ahsania Mission Pakistan, Islamabad; Mobilink Pakistan; Nokia Pakistan
Date of Inception2009

Background and Context

Gender disparity in literacy is one of the issues many countries face today. According to Pakistan’s recent national survey (PSLM, 2010-2011) the adult Pakistani literacy rate is 67% for males and 42% for females, showing a significant gender gap. One of the reasons for the low literacy rate is that there is no appropriate opportunity for newly literates, who have completed a basic literacy course to practice their literacy skills, and then relapse into illiteracy. The available literacy materials are not well adapted to their daily lives in terms of content and interests, and newly literates experience difficulty retaining their interest in reading. Constant acts of reading are required to retain and develop newly acquired literacy skills; it is therefore imperative to provide support to keep their interest in literacy and to maintain their regular daily practice of reading. In 2009, facing this challenge, UNESCO Islamabad, BUNYAD Foundation (an NGO) and Mobilink Pakistan (a mobile phone company) came together to implement a project entitled «Mobile-Based Post-Literacy Programme» to address the literacy retention problem of newly literates, specifically young and adult females. The piloting phase and the second phase of the project demonstrated significant benefits through the use of mobile phones. The project is currently in its third phase (March–August 2012) . It has been scaled up by acquiring more partners, namely the Punjab Department of Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education, Lahore; Dhaka Ahsania Mission Pakistan, Islamabad; and Nokia Pakistan.

Aims and Objectives


The main objective of the project is to develop a mobile-based literacy programme where the newly literates receive literacy materials as messages on a mobile phone, which they read and then respond to. This programme is designed not only to provide appropriate reading materials to learners in order to maintain and develop their literacy skills through a medium which has become an indispensable means of communication among youths today, but also to promote knowledge concerning many aspects of life and to teach learners about and familiarise them with technological advancements.

The rationales of the programme

  1. Among young adults in Pakistan, mobile phones have become an important means of accessing information, communication and learning. Mobile phones, therefore, would make a good medium for newly literates to sustain their interests in reading and writing. Mobile phones, which are provided by the programme, become the property of the learners at the end of programme.
  2. The programme is compatible with existing basic literacy programmes in that it includes two months of basic literacy coursework. The learners, having gained some level of literacy through the course, are then provided with mobile phones in order to retain and develop their newly acquired skills.
  3. Sending e-mail messages and monitoring learners’ participation in the mobile-based literacy programme only requires a simple web-based system and it is cost-effective.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies


A baseline survey is conducted in order to identify the areas where at least 25 female adults are either illiterate or have only basic literacy skills. Community leaders, families and female members of the community are sensitised through meetings which provide information about the advantages and disadvantages of mobile phones and the content of the messages learners would receive on a mobile phone. Village Education Committees are formed and they select the site for the establishment of the literacy centres and identify facilitators in their communities. Village Education Committees are also in charge of management of the literacy centres. Facilitators are then trained in pedagogical methodologies.

Young and adult women aged 15–30 with no or limited literacy skills participate in the programme. The learners are tested to determine the level of their understanding of simple sentences and maths problems before they begin the literacy programme.

Literacy Programme

The duration of the programme is six months. The programme is divided into two stages: The first stage lasts two months. During this stage, learners attend a basic literacy course at a community literacy centre which meets two to three hours per day and six days a week. They learn to write the alphabet and to read with emphasis on phonics. Recently, computers and the Internet were introduced in the basic literacy course, and learners also use UNESCO’s interactive DVD Becoming literate.


For the second stage, following the two-month basic literacy course, the mobile-based literacy programme begins. Learners are provided with free mobile phones. Originally over 600 messages were developed on 17 different topics for the mobile-based programme. The topics include Islamic teaching, numeracy, health, general knowledge, local government, beauty tips, food recipes, jokes and riddles. Then additional 200 messages were created on topics such as disaster risk management, the economy, the right to free compulsory education, cultural diversity, the culture of Pakistan, the culture of peace, human rights, rights of persons with disabilities, freedom of expression, and the voting process. The BUNYAD head office initially sent simple religious messages and then moved on to messages which address other topics. Learners receive short message service (SMS) on their mobile phones 6–8 times a day. They are instructed to read them, practise writing them in their workbooks, and answer questions. Simple maths is also taught using the calculator function on the mobile phones. Recently, Nokia Pakistan equipped mobile phones with uploaded contents of UNESCO’s interactive DVD through a software application called «e-Taleem App» (e-Education App). The mobile phone, therefore, has also become also a direct medium for literacy learning.


Monitoring the learners’ participation in the mobile-based programme is done by the web-based system which is used to send text messages to the learners. In addition, newly literates respond to questions/multiple-choice-questions (MCQs) or tests sent by SMS, and the results of these tests are summarised and recorded in the web-based system. Learners also report to literacy centres on regular bases. A monthly exam is given to learners at learning centres to track their retention rate and the development of their literacy skills.

Roles of the Partners

Each of the partners’ main roles are described below:

UNESCO Islamabad

Overall execution, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the programme; assessment of each learner’s progress; providing textbooks, mobile phones and computers; providing facilitators’ salaries

BUNYAD foundation; Punjab Department of Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education, Lahore; and Dhaka Ahsania Mission Pakistan, Islamabad

Provision of needs assessments, mobilisation of the community and families, provision of basic literacy courses and facilitator training, SMS message delivery, learner support after the completion of programme

Mobilink Pakistan

Provides (1) free SIM cards and SMS services for four months for 2,500 learners, (2) the free web-based software which allows sending and receiving SMS messages and (3) the back-end server which collects learners’ responses to the MCQs

Nokia Pakistan

Development of the software/application, installation of the software/application in the mobile phones


Past Phases

Pilot Phase (2009)

Ten literacy centres were established in three districts of the Punjab province and 250 learners completed the programme. Remarkable results were found regarding learners’ achievements during the mobile-based programme. For example, at one of the districts, Sialkot, the test results from the first month of the mobile-based programme showed that 90% of the learners were in the 0–50% range and none made it to the 70–100% range; however, results from the last month of the programme indicated only 14% of the learners fell into the 0–50% range and 39% of the learners reached the 70–100% range, showing a clear benefit of the mobile phone programme. The complete results on learners’ achievement in the district of Sialkot are found below:


Second Phase (April–September 2010)

After the success of the pilot phase, 50 literacy centres were established in the rural areas of 4 districts of Punjab, where 1,250 learners participated. During this phase, again, a notable improvement in learners’ literacy skills was found.

Reports and learners’ testimonials from the first two phases


It was reported that learners were satisfied with the effectiveness of this programme. They have become more confident about themselves. They learned how to read, write and solve small money problems through calculations. Learners can now read the Urdu newspaper, signboards and simple Urdu books. They can also understand the Holy Quran via its Urdu translation. Learners reported exchanging messages among fellow learners. The programme appears to have left a very deep impact on the lives of all who are connected with one another through this programme. Learners shared information and lessons with family members, and sometimes they brought their daughters to the literacy centres. Below are selected learners’ testimonials:

«It had been difficult for me to join a school to get formal education, but through this diverse way of learning it has become very easy for me as it is less time-consuming. I have developed great interest in my learning so I don’t miss a day of my classes. Although my brother is against my going to the classes I still go there because of my mother’s and teacher’s support. I have also gained a lot of confidence.»
«I would like to say thanks to UNESCO and BUNYAD for enabling us. Before joining this programme I did not know how to read and write but now I have come to know how to read and write. We come to know about many useful things through the messages sent to us by the head office. We want that other programmes like this should be started also to help us further.»
«We have not only learnt how to read and write but have also come to know about other uses of cell phones e.g. setting the alarm, setting the reminders and having a record of our contacts.»

(Note: the above was translated from Urdu to English).

Current Phase

Third Phase (March–August 2012)

Following the success of the second phase, additional partners joined the project: (1) Dhaka Ahsania Mission Pakistan, Islamabad; and (2) a public sector organisation, the Punjab Department of Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education, Lahore. Fifty additional literacy centres were established in the Punjab province in collaboration with the BUNYAD Foundation; twenty in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in collaboration with Dhaka Ahsania Mission Pakistan, Islamabad; and thirty in the South Punjab province in collaboration with Punjab Department of Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education, Lahore. An additional 2,500 learners are expected to complete the programme by the end of this phase.

Challenges and Lesson Learnt

  1. Religious and cultural constraints and the authoritative attitude of males keep females from receiving education. As far as this particular programme is concerned, family members – especially males – were initially very negative and hostile when they were approached to allow their young female family members to participate in the programme. They strongly disagreed with the idea of giving mobile phones to young women and doubted the effectiveness of the programme’s approach. In order to overcome this problem, the trust the community had in the BUNYAD Foundation, a local NGO partner, was a great source of help.
  2. The security situation in the country is deteriorating, and extremist opposition against women’s education makes it difficult for women to receive education.
  3. Learners found typing messages on mobile phones difficult and time-consuming. However, with extensive month-long training by the facilitators, learners learned to type comfortably in Urdu.


Right from the inception of the programme, communities were mobilised through Village Education Committees which were involved in the planning, execution and evaluation phases of the programme. This developed a sense of ownership amongst the communities and all other stakeholders. It is believed that this community involvement will play a key factor in the sustainability of the programme.

At the end of the six-month programme, the mobile phones become personal property of the learners. They can continue receiving SMS messages for another six months and learners can also use the mobile phones to continue communicating with each other.

The Village Education Committee will continue its work as an administrative body and will be responsible for mobilising funds for meeting the running cost of the literacy centres. The implementing partners will provide technical assistance such as sending SMS messages for another six months and providing occasional computer training to facilitators and learners, even after the project phases out. Supervision and monitoring of the literacy centres will be ensured on regular basis by the implementing partners.

The SMS messages developed under the project can be adopted by the mobile phone companies and can be sent to people in Pakistan on a wider scale. Media campaigns on literacy by the mobile phone companies may create an enabling environment to achieve UNESCO’s Education For All (EFA) goals in Pakistan.



Mr. Fakhar-ud-din
Project Officer (Gender Equality), UNESCO Islamabad
UNESCO Office, 7th Floor, Serena Business Complex, Khaban-e-Suhrawardy, Sector G-5 Islamabad, Pakistan.
Tel: +92-51-2600243/9 Ext: 16
Fax: +92-51-2600250
Email: ud.fakhar (at)