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Information and Communication Technologies

More comments on using the Internet to connect students and teachers around the world for 'virtual exchanges'

Michael Trucano's picture
connecting
connecting
A few years ago I was visiting a high school in central Russia and stopped by a chemistry class near the end of the day. It looked, more or less, like a chemistry class that one might see in many places around the world: kids in white lab coats pouring stuff into beakers, taking measurements and scribbling results on their notepads (and then doing the same thing again, and again).

The students were hurrying to collect their data so that they could compare them with other groups in the class -- and, it turned out, with the results 'from Toronto'. 'Toronto?' I asked, a little confused. 'What do you mean?'

I was told that the class was linked via Skype to a chemistry class in a high school outside Canada's largest city, which was doing the exact same experiment. 'Go have a look', one of the Russian kids said, nodding his head toward a computer monitor on a nearby table that showed a row of beakers much like those on the tables near me. The Russian student turned on the nearby microphone, called out a name ... and two heads popped up on the screen, attached to bodies halfway around the world. The students greeted each other, made a quick joke about the Maple Leafs and Ak Bars (the respective local hockey teams), and then started discussing the experiment.

The teacher later told me that she had been communicating with teachers in other countries whom she had found on the Internet and had been using Skype for about a year to connect to some of their classrooms, in order to demonstrate to her kids how science is really a global language, and how important it is to share your findings with the whole world. The local education officials who were with me on the school tour got very excited about all of this -- they had never seen such a thing. Yes, when I think about it, it is pretty neat, the teacher responded. Despite the occasional communication problem or technical glitch, however, her students really didn't really think this was a very big deal. Many of them were used to playing videogames with kids in other countries over the Internet already, she said, and to them this was in some ways just more of the same.

A post on the EduTech blog last week offered ten comments, questions and perspectives on connecting students and teachers around the world to each other to facilitate such 'virtual exchanges'. Here are ten more:

[As I noted when presenting the earlier list: I don't pretend to be an 'expert' on this stuff -- although I have learned from many folks whom I think probably deserve such a label) -- and no doubt there is at least one potential exception to every rule of thumb or guideline or piece of advice I present below. As with the earlier list, I make no claims to comprehensiveness; some important things are no doubt discussed incompletely, and others perhaps not at all. That said, hopefully there is something here that some of you might find useful -- or which provokes you in useful ways.]
 
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Exploring Digital India's transformative plans

Rajendra Kumar's picture
In August 2014, the Government of India approved Digital India, an ambitious national program aimed at transforming India into a knowledge economy and making government services more efficient and available to all citizens electronically. Over the next three years, the program envisions a national optical fiber network will connect thousands of India’s most distant gram panchayats — village-level governments — with a total population of more than 800 million.

This infrastructure will support government reform and change the way services are delivered. It is also expected that the program will help create thousands of new IT jobs, give a boost to the domestic manufacturing of electronics and, as a spin-off effect, lead to emergence of new services and flourishing e-commerce.
 
India’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) is the agency that help develop and now is driving the implementation of this transformative agenda. We asked Dr. Rajendra Kumar, Joint Secretary for e-Government, to tell us more about Digital India, the challenges this program is meant to address and the solutions that are envisaged. Read Dr. Kumar’s selected responses below, and click here to download the full version of the interview.

Digital India, the ambitious initiative of the Indian Government, aims to bridge digital divide and bring high-speed Internet and government services to the rural and underprivileged parts of the country by 2019. What are the key development challenges that Digital India is addressing and why was investment in ICTs chosen as the main solution?

India is sitting on the cusp of a big information technology (IT) revolution. We have to leverage our massive Indian talent and information and communication technologies (ICTs) as growth engines for a better India tomorrow. This is embodied in the following statement: IT (Indian Talent) + IT (Information Technology) = IT (India Tomorrow).

Using the Internet to connect students and teachers around the world for 'virtual exchanges'

Michael Trucano's picture
technology at the middle of a human connection
technology at the middle
of a human connection

Almost twenty years ago, the World Bank president was scheduled to visit some schools in Uganda. Around that time, the Bank was exploring the possibility of investing in videoconferencing to connect its offices, and those of its counterparts in government ministries, to each other as a way to promote more regular dialogue (and, it is probably worth noting, to save some travel costs as a result).

Wouldn't it be excellent, Jim Wolfensohn asked, if we could somehow connect these kids in Uganda to schools back in the United States in some way using the Internet so that they could talk to each other and exchange ideas -- can this be done?

A World Bank colleague (who was soon to become my boss) said, 'yes sir, absolutely, we can do this.' At the time, it turned out that he actually had no idea how to get this done ... but he and a few other bright people eventually figured it out, the schools were connected, and Ugandan and American kids talked with each other via video in real time, more or less successfully. (Videochatting over the Internet back in 1996/1997 was an often frustrating endeavor, but, given enough energy and more than a little luck, it did -- kind of, sort of, sometimes -- work.) Out of this small 'success' was born the 'school-to-school initiative', which soon was renamed the 'World Links for Development' program and which over the next decade worked with ministries of education in 20+ middle and low countries around the world to help connect schools, teachers and students to the Internet -- and to each other.

Obviously, much has changed from 1996 to 2015. Information and communication technology itself has, of course, changed dramatically: There is more of it; it is more powerful; it is faster; it is cheaper; it is available to many more people; and many more people know how to, and do, use it as part of their daily lives. Just because the tools to make connections between teachers and learners across national borders have improved a lot, however, doesn't mean that it is easy to actually make and sustain such connections over time in ways that are useful -- and sometimes even exciting.

Because of my experience with World Links (and a number of other similar efforts), I am often approached by groups looking (to quote from one related representative email inquiry) to 'connect teachers and students around the world in order to engage in enriching collaborative learning projects together to promote global peace and understanding and develop 21st century skills and competencies'. To the extent it might be of interest to anyone (and just possibly to save myself and others the time it takes to meet to discuss such things in person or over email), I thought I'd share some hard-won lessons and perspectives about what seems to work (and what doesn't) when it comes to connecting teachers and students around the world to each other so that they can achieve whatever it is they hope to achieve as a result of such connections.

I don't pretend to be an 'expert' on this stuff (although I have learned from many folks whom I think probably deserve such a label), and no doubt there is at least one potential exception to every rule of thumb or guideline or piece of advice I present below. The list of things discussed here  makes no claims to comprehensiveness. That said, hopefully there is something here that some of you might find useful -- or which provokes you in useful ways.

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Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Wanted! Your proposals on Regional Integration in South Asia



Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.

To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.[1]
 

How online work is changing labor force participation and fostering urban youth inclusion in Pakistan

Nicola Magri's picture
The Digital Youth Summit 2015 (May 7-9, 2015, Peshawar) will explore the potential of e-lancing.

The vibrant city of Peshawar is getting ready to host the 2nd Digital Youth Summit (May 7-9, 2015, Shiraz Arena). Co-organized by the KP IT Board, Peshawar 2.0 and the World Bank, the Digital Youth Summit is a tech conference and startup expo gathering participants from Pakistan and all over the world passionate about tech entrepreneurship. While there is a lot of excitement about how technology fuels entrepreneurship, there has also been a quiet and steady rise of the ‘e-lancer’
 
Source: https://www.elance.com/trends/skills_central,
Accessed on April 10, 2015

What is e-lancing? Exactly what you think it is. E-lancing is free-lancing for the digital age. Powered by  ICT tools and the internet, e-lancing allows independent tech savvy workers connected to the internet access to the global labor market. Over the past years, even ‘physical’ workspaces have started to get virtual through tele-conferencing, video meetings etc. Many are very convinced by the benefits of ICT-enabled remote work and the flexibility that comes with it while others caution that it may not be the holy grail people tout it to be. However everyone is in agreement about one thing: ICT reduces barriers and distances making the global market more accessible than ever.

All you need is a computer and an internet connection. Thanks to ICTs, e-lancing is booming and there are multiple platforms where employers and e-lancers can “meet” and do business. These virtual marketplaces functions like a Craigslist for skilled tasks: employers post tasks and e-lancers respond to posted tasks and submit offers. Once selected, the e-lancer starts working remotely for his/her client. In most cases, the e-lancing platforms remain the center for all main interactions (payments, reviews, messaging, etc.) between the employer and the on-line worker so to ensure transparency and avoid frauds.

Closing the gender finance gap: Three steps firms can take

Heather Kipnis's picture
Despite eye-opening market potential — women control a total of $20 trillion in consumer spending —  they have somehow escaped the notice of the private sector as an engine for economic growth.  Women are 20 percent less likely than men to have an account at a formal financial institution. Yet a bank account is the first step toward financial inclusion.

Why is it important for the private sector to help with this first step?
 
In increasingly competitive global markets, companies are searching for ways to differentiate themselves, to deepen their reach in existing markets and to expand to new markets. Greater financial access for women would yield a growing market opportunity with phenomenal profit potential for companies. The size of the women’s market, and the resulting business opportunity, is striking:
 
  • Business credit: There is a $300 billion gap in lending capital for formal, women-owned small businesses. Of the 8 to 10 million such businesses in 140 countries, more than 70 percent receive few or no financial services.
  • Insurance Products: The Female Economy, a study in the Harvard Business Review, reported that the women’s market for insurance is calculated to be worth trillions of dollars.
  • Digital payments: Women’s lack of cellphone ownership and use means that millions cannot access digital-payment systems. Closing the gap in access to this technology over the next five years could open a $170 billion market to the mobile industry alone.
 

Greater financial access for women would yield a growing market opportunity with phenomenal profit potential for companies.


For the past several years at IFC, I’ve been working with the private sector, namely financial institutions, to address the supply-and-demand constraints that women face when trying to access the formal financial system. IFC tackles these constraints in three ways:
 
  • Defining the size of the women’s market, female-owned and  -led SMEs, and as individual consumers of financial services
  • Showing financial institutions how to tap into the women’s market opportunity by developing offerings that combine financial products, such as credit, savings and insurance, with non-financial services such as training in business skills
  • Increasing women’s access through convenient delivery channels, such as online, mobile and branchless banking

If you want to go far, go together

Jana Malinska's picture

A new global network of Climate Innovation Centers will support the most innovative private-sector solutions for climate change.
 
Pop quiz: What does an organic leather wallet have in common with a cookstove for making flatbread and a pile of recycled concrete?
 
Believe it or not, each of these represents something revolutionary: a private sector-driven approach to climate change. Each of these products – yes, even concrete – is produced by an innovative clean-tech company. And as of March 26th, those businesses, and hundreds more like them, have something else in common. They’re connected through infoDev's newly established global network of Climate Innovation Centers (CICs), an innovative project that is taking the idea of green innovation beyond borders.
 
Having piloted the CIC model in seven different countries – Kenya, South Africa, the Caribbean, Ethiopia, Morocco, Ghana and Vietnam – it was time for infoDev, a global entrepreneurship program in the World Bank Group’s Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, to follow a time-honored business practice: to scale up and take this movement global.

And so, as part of last month’s South Africa Climate Innovation Conference, we joined forces with 14 experts from the seven different countries where the CICs operate to establish the foundations of the world’s first global network devoted to supporting green growth and clean-tech innovation.



CIC staff debate and discuss the new CIC Network during the South Africa Climate Innovation Conference.

This global network of Climate Innovation Centers – business incubators for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – has been designed to help local ventures take full advantage of the fast-growing clean-technology market. The infoDev study “Building Competitive Green Industries” estimates that over the next decade $6.4 trillion will be invested in clean technologies in developing countries. An even more promising fact is that, out of this amount, about $1.6 trillion represents future business opportunities for SMEs, which are important drivers of job creation and competitiveness in the clean-tech space.

Baltički autoput podataka: Kada ćemo mi imati balkanski?

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
Izvor fotografije: Data Logistics Center
Pre par meseci su Estonija, Letonija i Litvanija završile petogodišnju gradnju Baltičkog autoputa – kičme širokopojasne mreže koja koristi prednosti postojećih optičkih kablova koji poseduju tri baltička energetska postrojenja. Optička kičma dugačka 3000km prolazi kroz baltički region povezujući nove mega centre za podatke u severnoj Evropi Talinu sa čvorištem za podatke zapadne Evrope u Frankfurtu i ima mogućnost daljeg povezivanja sa Rusijom i Belorusijom. Izgradnja i funkcionisanje baltičkog autoputa je odličan primer regionalne saradnje i zajedničke infrastrukture.
 
Baltički autoput je proizvod nekoliko aktera - Data Logistics Center (deo od Lietuvos Energija, državne holding kompanije litvanskih snabdevača energijom), Latvenergo (državne kompanije za električnu energiju u Letoniji), i Televõrk (podružnica privatne energetske firme Eesti Energia iz Estonije). Za razliku od drugih ova mreža je građena tako što su kablovi sa optičkim vlaknima polagani preko visokonaponskih dalekovoda i gasovoda koji pripadaju energetskim kompanijama, umesto korišćenja različitih segmenata operatera za telekomunikacije koji su već bili “priheftani”. Sada klijenti baltičkog autoputa imaju mogućnost da koriste regionalnu infrastrukturu iz jedne tačke.

Autostrada Baltike e të dhënave: Kur do e ketë Ballkani një të tillë?

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
Foto nga: Data Logistics Center
Para disa muajve, Estonia, Letonia dhe Lituania kanë përfunduar ndërtimin 5 vjeçar të autostradës së Baltikut - rrjet backbone i broadbandit (brezit të gjerë) i cili shfrytëzon asetet e kabllos optike të tri kompanive energjetike Baltike. Backboni fibër pa nyje prej 3000 km që përshkon tërë regjionin e Baltikut, lidhë mega qendrat e të dhënave të Evropës së veriut në Talin me hubat e të dhënave të Evropës perëndimore në Frankfurt dhe ka mundësinë e zgjerimit të lidhjes me Rusinë dhe Bjellorusinë. Ndërtimi dhe operimi i autostradës së Baltikut është shembull i shkëlqyeshëm i bashkëpunimit regjional dhe i bashkëndarjes së infrastrukturës.
 
Autostrada Baltike është krijuar nga Data Logistics Center (pjesë e Lieuvas Energija, kompani shtetërore aksionare e furnizuesit Lituanez të energjisë), Latvenergo (kompani energjetike shtetërore e Letonisë), dhe Televork (subsidiar i firmës private energjetike Eesti Energia në Estoni). Për dallim nga të tjerët, ky rrjet është ndërtuar duke shtruar kabllon optike përgjatë linjave energjetike të tensionit të lartë dhe gypat e gazit të cilat i përkasin kompanive energjetike, e nuk janë përdorur segmentet e ndryshme të rrjeteve të operatorëve të telekomit të cilat janë të "arnuar së bashku". Tani klientët e Autostradës së Baltikut kanë mundësinë e shfrytëzimit të infrastrukturës regjionale pa nyje nga nj pikë e vetme.

Now that there's a Baltic Data Highway, when will we have one for the Balkans?

Natalija Gelvanovska's picture
Photo credit: Data Logistics Center
In January, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania finished the five-year construction of the Baltic Highway – a broadband backbone network that takes advantage of fiber-optic assets from three Baltic energy and utility entities. The Highway is a seamless fiber backbone of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) across the Baltic region, connecting Northern Europe’s new mega-data centers in Tallinn to Western Europe's data hub in Frankfurt, Germany, with the possibility of extending connections to Russia and Belarus.

The construction and operation of the Baltic Highway is a great example of regional cooperation and infrastructure sharing — and there are many lessons we can learn from it.
 
The Baltic Highway was created by Data Logistics Center (part of Lietuvos Energija, a state-owned holding company of Lithuanian energy suppliers), Latvenergo (a state-owned electric utility company in Latvia) and Televõrk (a subsidiary of private energy firm Eesti Energia in Estonia). Unlike previous data highways, this network was built by laying optical fiber over high-voltage electricity lines and gas pipelines that belong to energy companies, as opposed to using different segments of telecommunications networks that have been “stitched together.” Today, Baltic Highway clients have the opportunity to utilize one seamless regional infrastructure system from a single point.

What would it take to implement a similar project in the Balkans?

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