August 7 2014

SOS Sri Lanka uses ICT4D and mobile phones to strengthen parenting skills

Grass-roots and high-tech are coming together in Sri Lanka, where SOS Children’s Villages is using ICT4D, in the form of community networks and mobile phone technology, to enhance parenting skills.

7 August 2014 - Information and Communication Technologies for Development, or ICT4D for short, aims to give disadvantaged people access to the world of information and modern communications technologies, so people everywhere can have opportunities to learn, collaborate and innovate on a more equal footing.

‘SMS Quicklearns’ is an ICT4D pilot project started by SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka and MobilTrain in November 2013. The pilot project began with 150 mothers in two very poor areas of Sri Lanka – Peraliya and Gandhara – fishing communities devastated by the Indian Ocean Tsunami.

The feasibility study for the project showed a severe need in Peraliya and Gandhara to reduce malnutrition, improve children’s education, and build-up parents’ abilities to care for their children. At the same time, it showed that a high percentage of people in Peraliya and Gandhara owned and were already using mobile phones. Hence, a big opportunity was identified to use mobile technology to help people – in this case, local mothers – develop their parenting skills and learn about healthy child development.

Mothers taking part in the 'SMS Quicklearns' project in Sri Lanka take notes, reflect on their own parenting, do homework assignments and discuss good parenting with their peers -- all prompted by daily text messages and reminders organised by the project team. Photo: SOS Archives.

How ‘SMS Quicklearns’ works

The mothers themselves chose the topics they most wanted to learn about; our partner MobilTrain then provided content and technological support. The mothers participating in the project received daily text messages with questions for self-reflection, practical ‘to-do’ or ‘to-try’ exercises, and homework assignments which were then monitored by a project focus group. The daily text messages gave prompts for behaviour modifications, introspection and learning. The mothers also got together on a weekly basis in face-to-face group meetings to discuss their experiences.

The programme content of the ‘SMS Quicklearns’ pilot project included:

  • Communication within the family
  • Developing skills for non-confrontational communication with adolescent children
  • Helping children with their studies
  • Having more open conversations within the family
  • Understanding how to manage home finances, including how to plan and save

Positive changes through SOS ICT4D

The focus group and project coordinators observed positive behaviour changes – not just amongst mothers directly involved in the pilot, but also among men in their families. Some positive changes observed were:
  • Better understanding of the emotional needs of their children
  • Improved communication with their children; in turn whole family dynamics improved
  • Improved ability to read English
  • Motivation to learn through peer encouragement
  • Small bits of information in the form of text messages made learning and participating easier
"Indeed, SOS Children's Villages Sri Lanka is pleased to introduce this contemporary mode of imparting knowledge and skills to the marginalised communities at Peraliya and Gandara", said Ananda Karunarathne, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Sri Lanka.

Due to its success, SOS Sri Lanka has extended the ‘SMS Quicklearns’ project from six months to one year. Plans are also underway to introduce this effective ICT4D project in other locations where it can strengthen families and help parents care better for their children.

SOS Children’s Villages associations are developing and supporting innovative ICT4D projects globally to help disadvantaged people attain the knowledge, skills, networks and resources they need to better care for themselves, their children and their communities.