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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.

High energy Aghion on Shumpeterian growth

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

Philippe Aghion, Harvard economics professor and director of Industrial Organization at the Centre for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) delivered a lecture at the Bank on April 17 on 'What do we Learn from Shumpeterian Growth Theory?'

It was interesting to hear from the co-founder of the Shumpeterian paradigm about the relationship between economic growth, innovation, creative destruction, and competition. Aghion’s approach is to examine how various factors interact with local entrepreneurs’ incentives to either innovate or to imitate frontier technologies.

Using video to improve teaching -- and support teachers

Michael Trucano's picture
smile and say 'PISA!'
smile and say 'PISA!'

Much of the discussion related to how new technologies can be used in classrooms in low and middle income countries focuses on the use of PCs, desktops and tablets. Less discussed, I often find, is the strategic potential of various so-called peripheral devices, which are (in my experience) typically only considered within the context of how they can be used to enhance or extend the functionality of the 'main' computing devices available in schools.

Many education systems (for better or for worse) have specific 'hardware' budgets, and, when they are looking to tap these budgets to introduce more hardware into schools, in my experience they often look to buy more of what they already have, supplemented in places by things like interactive whiteboards, or networked printers, as a complement to what is already available in a school.

When talking with educational planners contemplating how to use funds specifically dedicated to purchase computer hardware, I often counsel them to think much more broadly about what they may wish to buy with these monies, within a larger context of discussing things like how such equipment can be utilized to meet larger educational objectives, what sorts of training and maintenance support may be needed, and how the use of this technology can complement other, non-technology-enabled activities in a classroom. As part of such discussions, I often find myself attempting in various ways to challenge policymakers and planners to think beyond their current models for technology use.

One general type of gadget that I only rarely hear discussed is so-called 'probeware', which refers to set of devices which are typically used in science classes to measure various things -- temperature, for example, or the pH level of soil, or the salinity of water. Despite the increasing emphasis in STEM subjects in many countries, and what is often a rhetorical linkage between the use of computers in schools and STEM topics, I rarely find that World Bank client countries are considering the widespread use of probeware in a strategic way as part of their discussions around ICT use in schools. That said, one suspects that such an interest is coming, especially once the big vendors direct more of their attentions to raising awareness among policymakers in such places (much like the interactive whiteboard vendors began to do a half-decade or so ago).

While probeware is a new type of peripheral for many education policymakers, there is another peripheral that policymakers are already quite familiar with, and which is already used in ad hoc ways in many schools, but which rarely seems to be considered at a system level for use in strategic ways. Once you have a critical mass of computers is in place, and in place of buying one additional PC, might it be worth considering (for example) utilizing video cameras instead? Video can be put to lots of productive uses (and some perhaps not-so-productive uses). Considering three concrete examples from around the world may shed some light on how video can be used to improve teaching -- and support teachers.

Ariel Unbounded

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

Ariel Rubinstein sat down for a video interview with me last week following a DEC lecture. A professor at Tel Aviv University as well as NYU, Rubinstein is an eminent game theorist and expert on the economic theory behind bargaining.

He spoke about how economic theory has gone through fundamental changes, in no small part due to growing interest in behavioral economics.

Video of launch event of the book Migration and Remittances during the Global Financial Crisis and Beyond

Dilip Ratha's picture

We had an interesting launch event for this volume on July 10th at the World Bank's Infoshop in Washington DC. There have been a number of media reports (see for example the story on Wall Street Journal by Eric Bellman, a Q&A in Mint by Malia Politzer, and another Q&A by Donna Barne). See also related posts on this blog from my co-editors Ibrahim and Jeff on their interventions during the book launch. 

Justin Yifu Lin receives video accolades, warm farewells

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

June 1 was Justin’s last day as World Bank Chief Economist and I wanted to share comments from several leading development thinkers and economists (including past Chief Economists) who knew him and appreciated the determination he brought to the position.  Justin’s views were not in the mainstream at the World Bank, but through intellectual persistence, structural economics has re-emerged as a topic meriting debate and discussion among top development experts.

Enjoy the video and feel free to share your views about Justin’s legacy

KONY 2012 and Lessons for Development (KONY 2012, Part 1)

Tanya Gupta's picture

Zero to 66 million views on YouTube in just five days (March 5-March 10).  Mostly teenagers and young people. Celebrity tweets from Oprah and others. 

The essence of the campaign: A simple video message about a warlord who lives thousands of miles away from most of the video’s viewers, created by Jason Russell, inspired millions to “make Kony famous”, and end the atrocities of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony and the LRA are allegedly responsible for large scale killings, and rapes of women and children in Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. 

There has been some criticism of their efforts: Some victims say it has come too late (Telegraph).  Others ask how are we ever going to awaken to our civil responsibility to demand more from our sitting governments if we are lulled into a dependency state for every civil service we should rightly expect from our governments? (CNN). Some African critics of the Kony campaign see a ‘white man’s burden’ for the Facebook Generation  (New York Times).  

Jumping monkeys, George Clooney, and NSE

Merrell Tuck-Primdahl's picture

Source: 'Comment: The New Structural Economics' PPT by Ricardo HausmannIt’s not every day that jumping monkeys and George Clooney are discussed in the context of a framework for development economics. But that’s exactly what happened on March 6 when Justin Yifu Lin presented his book, ‘New Structural Economics: A framework for Rethinking Development Policy’, with Regional Chief Economist for Africa Shanta Devarajan moderating and Harvard Professor Ricardo Hausmann providing a lively counterpoint as discussant. Justin made an impassioned case for how industrial structure is endogenous to endowment structure, arguing that following comparative advantage and involving the state as a facilitator can be the ticket to income growth and poverty reduction. Hausmann argued that comparative advantage is not determined by an economy’s broad endowment of factors, but by what you know how to do. He also argued that imitation (for example, if George Clooney wears a brand of cologne, other men would wear it too) and moving preferentially towards nearby goods (the jumping monkey analogy) are powerful drivers of innovation and success in industry. Watch the video to get the full narrative or download the Powerpoints here.


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