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At the World Economic Forum today, the media giant McGraw-Hill and the IT provider Wipro annouced today they were working together to develop mConnect, an open-standard mobile learning platform designed to bridge the skills gap in emerging markets.

The initial pilots of the program have been undertaken in India and have included test prep for university admission as well as English-language training. According to the companies' press release, the plan is to extend the program to other countries in Asia and Africa.

The mConnect program will offer students and workers in underserved areas access to adaptive education and assessment programs through cell phones, laptops and other movile devices. For English language learners, for example, mConnect will offer vocabulary lessons via SMS.

As I've written about previously, I think that SMS is a vastly underutilized tool in developing educational apps and services. And if you look at some of the statistics from India, it's clear why this is so crucial: by the end of 2012, it's predicted that one in five of all mobile phones in use worldwide will be owned by a young person in India. That ownership spreads across rural and urban areas, with the mobile phone being the key tool for access to information, education, and work opportunities.

So clearly, there are lots of opportunities (and not just in emerging markets) to build mobile learning tools that work on inexpensive mobile devices. Think Scitable, for example, the educational wing of Nature. Its strategy to democratize science education" involves building these sorts of easily-accessible sites (i.e., no Flash, no special iPad app).

But for some reason -- and honestly, I think it's just what comes to mind when I hear Davos -- I'm cautious (but not snarky, okay?) when I hear things like this, that as mobile phone penetration continues in emerging markets, that mConnect will be well-positioned to help students acquire the sought-after skills required by employers. But hey, that's just me.

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Audrey Watters


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