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Promising uses of technology in education in poor, rural and isolated communities around the world

Michael Trucano's picture
don’t worry: your solutions -- and possibly your salvation – have finally arrived!
don’t worry: your solution (salvation?)
has finally arrived!

One persistent challenge for educational policymakers and planners related to the potential use of informational and communication technologies (ICTs) in remote, low income communities around the world is that most products, services, usage models, expertise, and research related to ICT use in education come from high-income contexts and environments.

One consequence is that technology-enabled 'solutions' are imported and 'made to fit' into what are often much more challenging environments. When they don't work, or where they are too expensive to be replicated at any scale, this is taken as 'evidence' that ICT use in education in such places is irrelevant -- and possibly irresponsible.

That said, lessons are being learned as a result of emerging practices, both good and bad, in the use of ICTs in education in low resource, poor, rural and isolated communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific that may be useful to help guide the planning and implementation of educational technology initiatives in such environments. (It may even turn out that the technological innovations that emerge from such places many have a wider relevance …. but that is a topic for another discussion.)

Products like the BRCK (a connectivity device designed and prototyped in Nairobi, Kenya by many of the people behind Ushahidi to better address user needs in places where electricity and internet connections are, for lack of a better word, ‘problematic’) and MobiStation (a solar-powered 'classroom in a suitcase' which features a projector and lots of off-line educational content developed by UNICEF Uganda) remain notable exceptions to the lamentable reality that, for the most part, ‘solutions’ touted for use in schools in e.g. rural Africa, or in isolated communities in the Andes, are designed elsewhere, with little understanding of the practical day-to-day realities and contexts in which such technologies are to be used. Many people who have lived and worked in such environments are quite familiar with well-meaning but comparatively high cost efforts often informed more by the marketing imperatives embedded in many corporate social responsibility efforts than by notions of cost-effectiveness and sustainability over time or the results of user-centered design exercises.

When It Comes to Tackling Inequality, Start Early

Ana Revenga's picture

It seems that everyone is talking about inequality these days, and I, for one, am happy to see this issue at the forefront in the development discussion.

We can look at inequality in a number of ways, which are not unrelated. One of the most visible types of inequality on the radar is inequality of outcomes — things like differences in academic achievements, career progression, earnings, etc. — which, in and of themselves, are not necessarily bad. Rewarding an individual’s effort, innate talents and superior life choices can provide incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship, and can help drive growth.  

However, not all inequalities are “good.” When inequality perpetuates itself because those born poor consistently do not have access to the same opportunities as those born rich, what emerges is a deep structural inequality that is bad for poverty reduction, bad for economic growth, and bad for social cohesion. How pervasive are these deep inequalities? Much more than we would like. Indeed, when we examine what is happening in many countries around the world today, we find large and persistent, even growing, gaps in earnings between rich and poor. And we find that those who start out in poverty or are part of a disadvantaged group tend to remain there, with little opportunity to work their way out.

How do we explain this, and what can we do to tackle it? We need to take a step back and look at where this inequality originates, and that is where the concept of equality of opportunity comes in to play. This concept broadly refers to access to a basic set of services that are necessary, at the minimum, for a child to attain his or her human potential, regardless of the circumstances — such as gender, geographic region, ethnicity, and family background — into which he or she is born. Too often, access to such basic services like electricity, clean water, sanitation, health care and education is much lower among children born into circumstances that place them at a disadvantage. Children from disadvantaged groups thus set off on an unequal path from day one, which curbs their opportunities and potential into adulthood.

Tax, Electricity and the State

Richard Mallett's picture

Some Observations from Nepal

Power lines in Kathmandu I've been in Nepal since January helping out with the implementation of a household survey. Throughout February and March, we asked people in two districts – Jhapa, in the south-east of the country on the Indian border, and Tibetan-bordering Sindhupalchok to the north – about their livelihoods, the various taxes they pay, and their relationships with state governance. As part of this research, we've also been carrying out a number of more in-depth qualitative interviews.
 
When asked about the kinds of taxes that most affect their livelihoods on a day-to-day basis, one of the things that struck me about people's responses was the frequency with which electricity bills were mentioned. At first, I couldn't quite understand why this was coming up so much: that's not a tax, I thought, it's simply a payment made in exchange for a service. In my mind, I began to discount these responses, passing them off as information that missed the points we were trying to get at.
 
My assumptions were misplaced.

Keeping the Lights on in Africa, Fulfilling a Pledge

Makhtar Diop's picture
Rusumo Falls Hydroelectric Power Project: Bringing More Electricity to Africa's Great Lakes Region

In May this year, I joined World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on their historic visit to Africa’s Great Lakes region.  
 
As we travelled this war-weary region, at every stop, whether in towns or the countryside, we saw families involved in an epic effort to keep the peace, find jobs, feed and educate their children, and make their lives more prosperous.   

District Energy – A Smart Option for Cities

Robert Reipas's picture

Let’s talk recycling: Not plastic and paper, but power…

Combined Heat and Power SystemThese days, by far, the majority of electricity used in high-income countries comes from thermal power plants; these operate by heating water into steam that then spins a turbine. Thermal power plants, however, typically only use 33% to 48% of the total heat they produce. The rest just gets released into water or air. It’s a shame; if only there was a way to recycle all that ‘low-grade’ heat.

Today, 37% of the energy demand in OECD countries is for heating of buildings; only about 21% of energy demand is for electricity. We use much more energy for heating and cooling than we do for electricity.  The low-grade heat that gets wasted by most power plants is still hot enough to be used for heating (and cooling) and water heating in buildings.

Why do we use so little of the heat we produce? That’s like buying a tub of fried chicken just to eat the skins!

Keeping the hope alive in Myanmar

Axel van Trotsenburg's picture
Axel talks about his trip to Myanmar in a video below.

You can feel the energy in Myanmar today—from the streets of Yangon, in the offices of government ministries and in rural villages. Dramatic political and economic changes are sweeping the country.

Let’s Turn the Lights on Across Africa

Makhtar Diop's picture

I’m in Tokyo this week for the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings and on Friday I will open the Bank’s global conference to look more closely at the serious energy challenge facing Africa.

Consider this stunning fact―only 1 in 3 Africans has access to electricity on the continent.

And that is why too little electricity is one of the biggest challenges I see standing in the way of Africa achieving steadily higher growth rates, better education for its children and teenagers, good quality health services that work, farms and agribusinesses that can grow enough cheap nutritious food for Africans to eat, just to name some of the transformational priorities which can happen when we turn the lights on across Africa.

I confess I am passionate about lighting up homes, schools, businesses, clinics, libraries, and parliaments across the continent. As a child growing up in Senegal, I knew first-hand about power shortages. More power for Africans will allow them to transform their living standards and turn the continent’s growth into tangible benefits for all.

Energy security is a key priority for my work as World Bank Vice President for Africa, and my team is moving ahead relentlessly to put power infrastructure in place to plug regional communities into cross-border power pools, more irrigated land to grow food and create jobs, galvanize more trade and commerce within the region, and to unlock all the other development potential that electrical power makes possible.

No more blackouts? India’s states show the way

Ashish Khanna's picture

Satellite photo of India by nightIntroduction by Kalpana Kochhar, chief economist of the South Asia Region

This summer, I wrote about keeping India’s promise alive and realizing its great potential. As I said then, energy reforms are crucial if the country is to boost growth. In the wake of the world’s largest blackout, which left 600 million people in India without power, two World Bank colleagues have written an op-ed about examples India can turn to, at home and abroad, as it seeks to tackle seemingly insurmountable power issues. Ashish Khanna is a senior energy specialist in the Bank’s New Delhi office, and Jyoti Shukla is energy sector manager for the South Asia region. Here are excerpts from their article, which appeared in the Hindustan Times:

Optimiste pour la Guinee

Phil Hay's picture

At a fishing enclave called Baie des Anges on Guinea Conakry's Atlantic coast, the country's development challenges are laid bare. In this make-shift settlement shrouded with blue tarpaulins and weighted down with stones and old tires, families battle the constant threat of flooding while they struggle to make a living from fish they smoke on cinder-block stoves. For the poor people of Guinea, better times can't come fast enough.

The statistics are tough to read. Here in Guinea, it rains for six months a year and yet drinking water is hard to find. The country has some of the world’s largest deposits of bauxite and iron ore, and still one in two people lives in grinding poverty. And it’s getting worse. The poverty rate has jumped from 53% of the population in 2007 to more than 55% in 2012. Blessed with some of Africa’s most significant agricultural and hydro-electric potential, few homes outside downtown Conakry have power at night unless they run generators; and food is often in short supply.

World Bank Vice President for Africa Makhtar Diop with women leaders in Guinea, ConakryI joined the World Bank’s Vice President for Africa, Makhtar Diop, on a recent trip to Guinea where he held development talks with the President, Professor Alpha Condé, the Prime Minister, Mohamed Said Fofana, Cabinet Ministers, and local business leaders. In his discussions Diop was optimistic about the country’s development future and its potential to tackle its energy shortages, boost its agriculture production, and use its rich mining resources to transform the economy and development prospects of some of Africa's poorest people.


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