This is a guest post by Laura Czerniewicz. Laura is the Director of the Centre for Educational Technology (CET) at the University of Capetown in South Africa.
Keeping track of what South Africans are doing with technology is really hard, and especially so when it comes to learning. There is lots of anecdotal evidence, and like all academics, we all quote what our kids are up to (we should know better, they are hardly typical), and then there is all the media hype. But in a country with no centralised elearning policies, resources or think tanks, no PEW or Educause, we have to use what we can get. One useful mechanism is the South African census which is undertaken every four years, amidst much fanfare and with much effort, especially in crime-suspicious South Africa where census takers have a hard time getting access to homes and people. The data gathered is useful but the last census took place in 2007, and in a fast changing environment that is old hat!
Another way of keeping up with South African technology habits is through the work of market researchers. Especially useful is the South African Advertising Research Foundation’s extensive bi-annual (every six months) AMPS surveys, which tracks a wide range of habits, media practices and product ownership.. Other marketing research reports provide data which can be distilled for use by learning designers and educators.
The AMPS studies make a point of investigating right across the population, rich and poor, urban and rural. And the findings are fascinating!
In 2009 AMPS found that:
- 1.7% of South Africans have home loans (ie bank mortgages)
- 16% have a home telephone (land line) (down 2% since 2008)
- 55% of South Africans have a bank account
- 70 % personally own a cell phone
This last statistic is cause for pause.
Besides anything else, it’s a lower figure than others, even taking into account that the urban sector percentage is 77% according to AMPS. An organisation focusing on the use of mobiles for social impact, mobileactive, reports that the number of cell phone subscribers in 2007 was 87% (and that was three years ago).
Lets make it clear that unlike in the rest of the world, cell phones are not a big deal because of the arrival of the iPhone. It is estimated that amongst South Africa’s almost 50 million people, there are only approximately 75000 iPhones (according to Robinson in www.bizcommunity.com) .
So in South Africa, when we talk about cell phones we don’t mean those morphed all in one-virtually—a- TV-virtually- a-mini-computer-type smartphones. We mean the common-or-garden numbers which have been around for while now and not been taken much notice of (see my previous post). AMPs’ conservative figures would mean 35 million ordinary mobiles, but Robinson estimated recently that there are 44 million cell phones in the country
And of these, prepaid cell phones are by far the most common – of the 70% of cell phone ownership, 61% are prepaid not contracts. This puts them in the hands of everyone in society. As does the fact that 96% of the country’s population is covered by mobile telephony (according to mobileactive and that was in 2006).
Not only are cell phones ubiquitous, they are more pervasive than other technologies
These two graphs (ITU 2010) nicely illustrate how steep the curve is for developed countries is and how much higher the percentage of cell phone subscriptions is compared to internet users in those countries.
Even in 2009, in South Africa, three quarters (76%) of AMPS respondents said they did not use a computer. Of those who do, just under half use it at work.
Compare that with the proportion of households with computers elsewhere!
This is in stark contrast with the cell phones which are not only used in all social strata, but cross social divides.
Thus, a survey of high-school learners in South Africa by the Youth Research Unit at the University of South Africa (UNISA) analysed their results by school type finding a negligible difference. They found that 98-99% of high school learners across all school types owned a cell phone.
This commitment to cell phone ownership is revealed in a survey of students specifically in poor high schools in Cape Town which found that 77% of Grade 11 students owned their own phone, 18% used other people’s phones and 4% owned a sim card, but used other people’s phones to use it (Kreutzer 2009).
Cell phones provide more and relatively cheaper access than other internet technologies
The dramatic difference in penetration and price in PPP dollars (ie Purchasing Power Parity) is stark in these graphs.
In South Africa, Robinson in 2010 estimates conservatively that are approximately 10- to 12-million WAP-enabled cell phone users in SA, and Goldstuck (2010) reports that for 450 000 users cell phones are the primary form of access to the Internet.
Amongst students the figures are very high, albeit variable. According to one study by two youth marketing agencies (Student Village & Interact RDT) 78% of SA students access the internet via their cell phones. UNISA’s study of high school learners reported that 75.4 % of the respondents indicated that they accessed the Internet via their cellphones. The Kreutzer study in poor schools was even more revealing: 93% of the Grade 11 learners reported having used the internet on cell phones (ever), with 68% using their phones for internet access on a typical day, opposed to 39% using computers (Kreutzer 2009).
South Africans value cell phones and are prepared to spend money on them
Despite the growing popularity and uptake of mobile cellular services in Africa, it remains the region with the relatively most expensive mobile prices, according to the ITU 2010. Average mobile cellular prices are as much as 17.7 per cent of monthly income in Africa (compared to a little as 1.1 per cent of monthly income in Europe.)
Cell phone users are prepared to make sacrifices for this to happen. Of 17 year old students in the poor schools, about half of all their expenses are spent on cell phones (Kreutzer 2009) – and remember that these are poor students.
Indeed, a market research company, Synovate, found that 84% of South Africans ‘cannot live’ without their cell phone, with unsurprisingly, highest dependency on their phones was reported in the 25 – 34 year old age group where 91% of which declared that they could not live without their cell phones, followed closely by 87% in the 16 – 24 age category. The older segment (50+) broke some stereotyping by falling close behind with 84% not able to live without their phones.
These strong feelings of identify are confirmed by our own research as well as those of our colleagues with the following comments being typical:
I can’t live without my cell phone. My whole life revolves around it
My phone is exciting- total independence
I couldn’t live without a cell phone–it has become so close to me
My mobile is my soul
What are students doing with these devices, these non-iPhones? And how are cell phones being used for learning? More about that in the next (and last) of these postings on cell phones in the South of Africa.
- The extraordinary comment “My mobile is my soul” is from the research of Donner and Gitau 2009- New paths: exploring mobile-centric internet use
in South Africa, in Presented at the Pre-Conference on Mobile Communication at the Annual Meeting of the International Communication Association, 21 May 2009. The other quotes are from our (Czerniewicz and Brown) research at CET, these particular quotes were reported at the Sakai Annual Conference in 2009, see http://www.cet.uct.ac.za/files/file/ResearchOutput/SakaiJul09Presentation.ppt.
- The valuable Goldstuck report is the Internet Access in South Africa 2010 study, conducted by World Wide Worx 2010.
- The UNISA youth study is “New media usage and behaviour among adolescents in selected schools of Gauteng,” by Prof. DH Tustin, Dr. I van Aardt, & MS GS Shai – Bureau of Market Research UNISA at http://www.unisa.ac.za.
- Robinson talks about mobile phone statistics at the Habari Symposium: Manson, H – “The social web will be mobile” and in da Silva , I “Brandsh Media reveals African mobile figure on http://www.bizcommunity.com/Article/196/16/46402.html#tag=Habari%20Media%20Digital%20Symposium%202010.
- Tino Kreutzer’s excellent study Generation Mobile:Online and Digital Media Usage on Mobile Phones among Low-Income Urban Youth in South Africa is available at http://tinokreutzer.org/mobile/MobileOnlineMedia-SurveyResults-2009.pdf.
- The informative graphs come from the International Telecommunication Union 2010 publication, Measuring the Information Society 2010. The South African Advertising Research Foundation makes its very useful findings available at http://www.saarf.co.za/. The Synovate data was reported in SA can’t live without cellphones at http://www.timeslive.co.za/business/article348468.ece/SA-cant-live-without-cellphones on 10 March 2010.