The McGraw-Hill Companies has joined with Wipro, an IT and technology services provider, to develop mConnect, an open standard learning platform that can deliver a range of basic educational programs to low-income rural populations in the developing world via cellphones. The mConnect platform will launch with a pilot program in India this summer with plans to expand later into Asia and Africa.

McGraw-Hill CIO Bruce Marcus told PW that even in low-income rural communities without advanced devices like laptops and smartphones, cellphones are ubiquitous. “There are 800 million cellphones in rural India,” Marcus said, “not smartphones.” Marcus also pointed to both the importance of English in the developing world and the ability of standard cellphones to deliver voice calls and text messages.

“Learning English is critical in social mobility and to establish a career in India and China and in those countries everyone has a cellphone,” Marcus said, emphasizing that the mConnect pilot program will focus on English instruction and test preparation. “English is the biggest tool in these areas and a good starting point for the program. In India there are exams that everyone must take and we can do the test prep. We have the content; we’ve tested delivery of our content on phones around the world and we know this can make a difference in the quality of people’s lives.”

McGraw-Hill has developed educational programs for teaching English via mobile phones that allow students to hear conversations in English and work on pronounciation through voice calls while they build their vocabulary with words and personalized instruction delivered by text message. “People can speak English and get personalized responses,” Marcus explained, “and they can schedule it at anytime. The cellphone is a great tool.”

Marcus said the business model is being worked out. “Farmers use cellphones to track the prices at nearby towns and pay a small fee per call. There are all kinds of models, a subscription service for instance,” Marcus said, “but there’s a real need for a program like this in rural areas. We can work on the business model but the demand is there.”