I was about 13 years old when my family organized a trip to the village of Mpangou, in the Republic of the Congo. Travelling to the village was an event for us kids of the city – a new world. I remember packing our generators, cd players and speakers to bring a bit of our urban lives with us, and my mother telling us to buy candies and biscuits as gifts for the people. The road was full of potholes, and the men often had to push our cars forward through the mud, but at last, we got there.
In December 2013, I was excited to receive funding through an Innovation Challenge Award to pilot water flow sensors in rural Tanzania, where the sustainability of rural water supply is a major development challenge. Approximately 38% of rural water points are not functioning properly. The sensor we wanted to develop would remotely monitor flow, making it easier to deliver operational information to the Ministry of Water’s water point mapping system.
The pilot brought one of the first 3D printers to Tanzania and we connected the American start-up WellDone International to the local non-governmental organization (NGO) Msabi. The project team implemented the gadget effectively, and my colleagues at the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) and I navigated the procurement and implementation challenges. The pilot ended successfully in June of 2014 and we were proud of our achievement in bringing an innovative ICT solution to the Tanzanian rural water sector.
As I blogged a few weeks ago, the proposed WASH Post 2015 goals and targets for sanitation call for universal access to improved sanitation by the year 2030. I described how many governments have started working to achieve the goal of universal access by taking steps to make the transformational changes and to stop doing “business as usual” in sanitation programs that have largely failed to deliver sustainable sanitation service delivery – especially for the poor. In addition to universal access, the WASH Post 2015 goals also call to progressively eliminate inequalities in access between population subgroups.
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.
- one mouse per child
- Same Language Subtitling
- Ustad Mobile
- video camera
- Hole in the Wall
- Digital Divide
- Mathew Effect
- interactive radio instruction
- Mobile Phones
- Information and Communication Technologies
- Papua New Guinea
The proposed WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Program (JMP) WASH Post 2015 goals for sanitation calls for universal access to basic improved sanitation – by the year 2030. Using largely small scale project approaches that have failed to deliver sustainable sanitation service delivery – especially for the poor -- most countries have not yet achieved the more modest MDG sanitation goals. However, many countries have already started working to achieve the goal of universal access by taking steps to make the transformational changes needed to stop doing “business as usual” in their sanitation programs.
If a year ago you told me that I would be able to speak authoritatively on the technical aspects of sanitation, I would have thought you were crazy! Kenya is my home; I am 130% Kenyan and have lived here my whole life. In all this time, I never fully realized the sanitation issues in my country. True, I knew the statistics but until recently I didn’t fully realize how the impact was hitting my home.
The greatest development challenge facing Sub-Saharan Africa today is lifting 400 million of its people out of extreme poverty. The continent has abundant land and mineral resources to meet the challenge, but only if land governance can be improved. A new study, Securing Africa’s Land for Shared Prosperity, offers a ten-point program to improve land governance by accelerating policy reforms and boosting investments at a cost of US $4.5 billion over 10 years.
Two kids wash their hands with clean water. Their home in Thai Binh Province, Vietnam got access to clean water in 2011. Watch video: Providing clean water in rural areas: an example from Vietnam
Despite Vietnam’s significant economic growth in recent years, there continues to be a gap between urban and rural areas when it comes to access to clean water and hygienic sanitation facilities. Many poor households in rural areas still do not have access to clean water or to a toilet. During one of our earlier field visits for the Red River Delta Rural Water Supply and Sanitation (RRDRWASS) project which began almost 10 years ago, I was struck by what a lady from a community told me. She questioned why people in urban areas have access to good water supply and sanitation services while those in rural areas do not. She said that compared to urban residents, perhaps people in rural areas were happy with a lower level of service and that the demand for better services was simply not there.
At first I thought that she might be right but I later came to realise that this is not the case. There is demand for improved services in rural areas, and more importantly, people have a fundamental right to have access to those services.
So what are the reasons for the gap?
There are, broadly speaking, two strands of concurrent thinking that dominate discussions around the use of new technologies in education around the world. At one end of the continuum, talk is dominated by words like 'transformation'. The (excellent) National Education Technology Plan of the United States (Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology), for example, calls for "applying the advanced technologies used in our daily personal and professional lives to our entire education system to improve student learning, accelerate and scale up the adoption of effective practices, and use data and information for continuous improvement."
This is, if you will, a largely 'developed' country sort of discourse, where new technologies and approaches are layered upon older approaches and technologies in systems that largely 'work', at least from a global perspective. While the citizens of such countries may talk about a 'crisis' in their education systems (and may indeed have been talking about such a crisis for more than a generation), citizens of many other, much 'less developed' countries would happily switch places.
If you want to see a true crisis in education, come have a look at our schools, they might (and do!) say, or at least the remote ones where a young teacher in an isolated village who has only received a tenth grade education tries to teach 60+ children in a dilapidated, multigrade classroom where books are scarce and many of the students (and even more of their parents) are often functionally illiterate.
Like so many things in life, it all depends on your perspective. One country's education crisis situation may be (for better or for worse) another country's aspiration. While talk in some places may be about how new technologies can help transform education, in other places it is about how such tools can help education systems function at a basic level.
The potential uses of information and communication technologies -- ICTs -- are increasingly part of considerations around education planning in both sorts of places. One challenge for educational policymakers and planners in the remote, low income scenario is that most models (and expertise, and research) related to ICT use come from high-income contexts and environments (typically urban, or at least peri-urban). One consequence is that technology-enabled 'solutions' are imported and (sort of) 'made to fit' into more challenging environments. When they don't work, this is taken as 'evidence' that ICT use in education in such places is irrelevant (and some folks go so far to state that related discussions are irresponsible as a result).
There is, thankfully, some emerging thinking coalescing around various types of principles and approaches that may be useful to help guide the planning and implementation of ICT in education initiatives in such environments. As part of my duties at the World Bank, I have been discussing a set of such principles and approaches with a number of groups recently, and thought I'd share them here, in case they might be of wider interest or utility to anyone else. Are they universally applicable or relevant? Probably not. But the hope is that they might be useful to organizations considering using ICTs in the education sector in very challenging environments -- especially where introducing these principles and approaches into planning discussions may cause such groups to challenge assumptions and conventional wisdom about what 'works', and how best to proceed.