Cannes Lions








In the Philippines, many underprivileged school kids have to walk several miles to go to school, carrying as much as 22 books a day. This leaves them exhausted and unable to focus once classes start. Unfortunately, these are the very kids who rely on education to help lift themselves out of poverty.

While the rest of the world has shifted to e-readers as educational tools, in the Philippines even the cheapest tablet costs more than what many families make in a month. One piece of technology though that is indispensible even to lower income families is the cellphone. The rapid advancements in mobile communications have made older models affordable to all, which is one of the reasons why the Philippines is known as “the texting capital of the world.”

So just imagine if we could turn the millions of old phones into a new kind of textbook.

The company that would make it happen was Smart Communications. As the country’s largest telco and an advocate of using technology to uplift the lives of Filipinos, Smart had an abundance of older generation SIM cards. With the help of authors, school texts were condensed and pre-programmed into these cards. Once loaded, it turned even the oldest phone into an e-reader. We called the low-tech solution “Smart TXTBKS”.

The campaign was launched in 4 public schools and it had only one objective: to lessen the physical load on kids. By replacing bulky school books with TXTBKS, the overall weight of school bags was reduced by almost 50% their usual weight. These results were to be expected.

However, no one could foresee the additional effects it had. Though no formal studies were conducted during the pilot phase, interviews with teachers revealed that students we’re more active during class, likely a result of being less tired. Upon further study by a psychologist, it turns out that the new learning interface made them more excited to learn as well.

What started as a small experimental project is now making a huge impact. The Department of Education is currently studying possible implementation in more schools, covering more subjects. Other learning institutions, such as orphanages have embraced the project, prompting us to expand its use to children’s books. And with interest from countries like Japan, Oman, India and more, TXTBKS is going global. In fact, it debuts in South Africa later this month.

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