Ustad Mobile: Mobilizing Education for All

About Solution

What we do

Ustad Mobile aims to make high-quality, online educational content accessible to the 50% of the global population who do not have Internet access, and to those who cannot afford to download large content files (such as video and interactive exercises) using their own data bundles. Under the Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme (video), we're adapting thousands of online, open educational resources (such as Khan Academy, Edraak, Pratham, and African Storybook) for offline use and sharing in the free, open source Ustad Mobile app.

Our app can be easily installed on any Android smartphone or tablet. Once installed, users can download content from the Internet when they have a connection, or they can use our innovative, peer-to-peer sharing functionality to download content from any other user nearby without needing any Internet connection at all. One user can download content and share it locally with an unlimited number of users. The app does not have any special hardware requirements and works on almost any Android smartphone or tablet. iOS support will be introduced in the near future. 

Ustad Mobile is a Dubai-based social enterprise, and our technology is used in projects supported by Dubai Cares, USAID, and the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Lebanon. Under the Expo Live Innovation Impact Grant Programme, we aim to reach millions worldwide by taking existing online education content and making it freely accessible offline using our app. We intend to generate revenue by providing an offline optimized learning management system to compete with established vendors (such as Blackboard and Moodle) to enterprise clients.

Why we do it

“We are facing many humanitarian challenges, and must think innovatively in order to accelerate philanthropic work and achieve high results – this cannot wait.” -HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum

According to the Brookings Institute, there is an estimated 100-year gap between the educational opportunities that learners in high-income countries receive in comparison with their peers in other countries (Winthrop, 2018). There has also been a deceleration in the growth of Internet access, from 19% in 2007 to 6% in 2017 (Sample, 2018). Our app is fundamentally about extending opportunity - we seek to reach the most remote and marginalized to widen their access to information and educational resources.

The Internet contains an unprecedented repository of educational content, yet those who could benefit the most from it have no access to it. Both teachers and students can gain greatly from teachers having access to digital materials, even when, as is often the case, students do not have their own mobile devices (DFID, 2014, p.27). However, even for teachers who have their own mobile data plan, it is often cost prohibitive to stream or download large files such as videos and other multimedia.

Ustad Mobile’s app supports students in their studies - and teachers in their professional development and teaching - by making educational content accessible and shareable offline on the devices that they already own. Teachers who would otherwise have insufficient access to professional development resources and lesson materials can browse and use these resources. Students benefit from the extra resources made available by their teachers at school, and potentially from increased access to learning content at home. The app is also a valuable resource for school managers and households in areas with limited to no connectivity, local publishers, ministries of education, donor agencies and their implementing partners, international and national non-governmental organizations. 

How is our app different? 

Our app is built by developers in close collaboration with teachers. All staff, both technical and pedagogical, have extensive experience in implementing education technology in challenging circumstances to mitigate some of the disadvantages that marginalized teachers and learners face in accessing information and resources. As we design first and foremost for the most marginalized, our app has significant improvements beyond existing or trending solutions.

1. Conventional education apps with an offline mode
Many education apps (e.g. Blackboard and edX) provide some offline functionality, in the sense that they allow the user to watch videos or complete quizzes offline after the content has been downloaded from the Internet. However, each user has to download those resources directly from the Internet onto their device. Ustad Mobile’s peer-to-peer sharing functionality allows one user to download content and share it directly, offline and at high speed, with any other user nearby.

2. Local network and server kits
Some organizations have created software that can run on local mini servers. Schools are then required to install a local server and WiFi access points before any devices can be connected to that network. Though this approach allows for content to be downloaded from the Internet once and distributed amongst devices offline, it requires additional hardware that limits scalability. Ustad Mobile is a 100% software-only solution that can run on almost any of the existing two billion Android phones. There are no excess equipment costs as learners use and share content on the devices that they already own, and scaling the app (a) results in no additional recurrent costs, and (b) mitigates user data costs, promising cost-effective access to educational content at scale. 


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