“Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary,” says Thomas Friedman, author and three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

Today, possible is meeting what is necessary in education.

The increase in broadband internet connections, mobile devices and software is making it possible to learn anywhere. When people learn over mobile devices, it is called mLearning. It can augment or enhance classroom learning and provide job training to new or existing workers.

The “2011 Education for All Report” warns that the world is facing a massive teacher shortage. The planet needs over two million new teachers by 2015 to sustain the current education model.

With all the potential benefits and clear needs, the question is how do we advance mLearning from promising pilot projects to mass-scale adoption?

One part of the solution is to cultivate an mLearning ecosystem that includes strategic investment in broadband, mobile technology, software and training.

Many countries have realized the importance of affordable broadband for their citizens, with more than 90 embarking on national broadband programs. The best programs couple broadband with socially relevant applications like finance, health and learning.

For instance, as part of China’s 12th Five-Year Plan, the government has earmarked 1.6 trillion renminbi (c. $252bn) to build out a national broadband network by 2015. It is investing in the world’s most extensive deployment of fibre-to-the-home technology. This gives people superfast broadband connections and will boost Asia’s share of global fibre connections past the 74% of worldwide users it has today.

China is coupling that investment in infrastructure with a ten-year digital education plan. This includes developing an education “cloud” comprising more than 20,000 high-quality lectures and resources accessible by PC, tablet computer and other mobile devices. This push has boosted China’s mLearning market by 60%, making it the fastest growing in Asia.

Both developed and developing countries, such as China, Turkey, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, are also developing “e-backpack” tablet programs for students – pushing mLearning one step closer to wide-spread adoption. But more must be done to realize the full potential of a connected education system.

Co-ordinated cross-sector involvement is required to put affordable devices into the hands of those most in need of them. This is not a short-term ambition. It requires long-term programs and goals like China’s Five-Year Plan. These goals need to combine social and commercial incentives to motivate people to achieve more in the sphere of education. This is essential if we want to close the digital divide.

About the author: Rajeev Singh-Molares is president of Alcatel-Lucent Asia-Pacific Region and chairman of World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on ICT.

Pictured: Students take their examination in an exam hall in Dongguan University of Technology, in south China’s Guangdong province. REUTERS/China Daily