Mobile Money, Schooling, and the Poor
Claire Adida and Jennifer Burney of the University of California, San Diego, in the U.S. are developing a mobile money platform to enable the rural poor in West Africa to pay school fees directly and securely using mobile phones to help more children stay in school. Mobile money is not widely used in West Africa and many individuals do not use banks. Often money for things like school fees has to be physically transferred over long distances, which is unreliable and takes time. Recording payments is done largely by hand, which is error-prone and difficult to track. In Phase I, they designed the mobile money platform in conjunction with their mobile provider partner for use on feature phones, which are common in the region. They also designed a school payment database for recording transactions and issuing receipts, and an SMS-based messaging platform for schools to notify people and raise additional funds. They pilot-tested their approach in a secondary school in Benin with over 600 students, and recorded substantial interest in making mobile money payments, with around 3% of fees paid using their platform. In Phase II, they will work to overcome the challenges in Phase I, which included difficulties integrating their platform into the existing mobile provider’s system, and refine the payment platform and database. They will then implement the platform in all public schools in Benin that teach children between 11 and around 18 years old. They will perform a randomized control trial to evaluate how well their platform is adopted, and its effect on the general uptake of mobile money.