One of the fascinating benefits of working at a place like the World Bank is the exposure it offers to interesting people doing interesting things in interesting places that many other folks know little about. Small countries like Uruguay and Portugal, for example, are beginning to attract the attention of educational reform communities from around the world due to their ambitious plans for the use of educational technologies. Much is happening in other parts of the world as well, of course, especially in many countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The largest stand-alone World Bank education project to date that focused on educational technologies, for example, was the Russia E-Learning Support Project. Macedonia gained renown in many corners as the first 'wireless country', with all of that Balkan country's primary and secondary schools online since the middle of the last decade -- although other countries, like Estonia and the tiny Pacific island nation of Niue, also lay claim to versions of this title. (If you are looking for more information on the Macedonian experience, you can find it here and here [pdf]). Much less well known, however, is the related experience of the small country of Georgia, located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, where small laptops are being distributed to primary school students and where school leaving exams are now conducted via online computer-adaptive testing.
Information and Communication Technologies
The year 2011 ended on a high note for the reformers in Sierra Leone. There were two significant reforms which the government saw through – reforms that had been long overdue, but which now hold the potential of unleashing new investments and economic growth in the country. Can Sierra Leone’s use these reforms to beat the potential effects of a global economic downturn? One hopes so.
The energy sector in Sierra Leone has long faced under-investments. Not very long ago Freetown had the dubious distinction of being the darkest capital in the world and the Bumbuna dam remained elusive.
In recent chats with officials from [an un-named country], I learned of the desire of educational policymakers there to leap frog e-learning through m-learning. This made an impression on me -- and not only because it succinctly was able to encapsulate four educational technology buzzwords within a five-word "vision statement". In many ways, this encounter helped confirm my belief that a long-anticipated new era of hype is now upon us, taking firm root in the place where the educational technology and international donor communities meet, with "m-" replacing "e-" at the start of discussions of the use of educational technologies.
We are used to thinking of landlocked countries as victims of geography. We worry that Ethiopia, Mali, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, among others, cannot benefit fully from flows of trade, tourism and knowledge. But do these countries use policies to improve connectivity and offset the handicap of location?
A new services policy database shows a perverse pattern. Landlocked countries tend to restrict trade in key “linking” services like transport and telecommunications more than other countries.
Zambia, for example, bravely liquidated its national airline in 1994, but it still denies “fifth freedom rights” to Ethiopia to fly the Addis Ababa-Lusaka-Johannesburg route, and to Kenya to fly the Nairobi-Lusaka-Harare route. In fact, the restrictive policies of many African countries make a mockery of the decade- old Yamoussoukro Decision (and a subsequent COMESA agreement) to liberalize air transport.
Every day we are reminded that the challenges faced in eradicating poverty are multifaceted and include complex economic, social, political, and cultural dimensions. For this reason, we work with a number of partners and experiment with many technologies to try and leverage the right community with the right skills and tools to address a given challenge.
When you are overtaken by yet-another reckless Matatu driver you may have sympathy for Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s long-time autocrat, who is credited with Singapore’s transformation from third world to first world. He once famously claimed: “Developing countries need discipline more than democracy.”
"How was school today and please don’t forget to bring milk on your way back home". This simple conversation between Halima, a 36–year-old woman from Dodoma and her young daughter on their mobile phones was almost impossible 15 years ago: only 2 percent of Tanzanians had a phone and only one of two children attended a primary school (Figures). Today those figures reach 50 and almost 100 percent respectively. Daily life has evolved in Tanzania with technology and education as the main drivers.
We have just completed three years of publishing the World Bank's EduTech blog. As we did at the end of 2010 and 2009, we have put together a consolidated list of 'top posts' from the last year. The EduTech blog is meant to provide an informal way to share information about some of the things (projects, challenges, technologies, approaches) that we think might be of interest to a wider audience, especially in so-called "developing countries", hopefully serving in some modest way to promote greater transparency related to some of the sorts of information, conversations and discussions that previously were accessible only to limited groups of stakeholders and partners with whom the World Bank is in regular dialogue.
There is no shortage of blogs that focus on educational technology issues. The vast majority of the ones available in English are written by and for people working in schools and education systems in the United States, Canada, the UK and other places in Europe, Australia, etc. While we are certainly happy when *anyone* reads our short weekly posts, this is decidedly *not* our target audience. (People interested in that sort of thing are directed to the lists of excellent educational technology blogs available here.) On the EduTech blog, our goal each week is to "explore issues related to the use of information and communication technologies to benefit education in developing countries", and it is through this prism that we always try to view things. Most posts are actually extensions of, or complements to, on-going conversations that we are having with various groups about particular projects and, truth be told, we often write a post with an explicit target audience of just a handful of people in mind. That said, we are quite happy that we seem to have found a pretty wide and dedicated weekly readership.
International development institutions are often seen as notoriously traditional and hidebound institutions, especially in their embrace of new technologies, and by publishing (nearly) every week, we hope to demonstrate to various partners within the UN and international development community, as well as our partners in government around the world, that it is possible to share information quickly and cheaply with interested groups in ways that are a bit more idiosyncratic, and possibly more interesting, than via a press release touting the achievement of some milestone or a dense paper that goes through a lengthy review process before finding a wider audience. Both of those mechanisms obviously have their place. That said, based on personal experience with this blog, I find that the immediacy and wide readership of some blog posts prove useful to advance dialogue on some topics in ways that other 'traditional' publishing mechanisms is less suited to do. (Yes, this may be old news to many readers -- this paragraph isn't directed at you.) Whereas press releases and more formal academic papers often signal the end of a process of some sort, this blog is often used to spark conversation about starting something new, in places where some of the topics or ideas or approaches are not widely known.
So: That's enough preface. Below is a collection of top posts from 2010. There were fewer posts to pick from this year, given that we suspended publication for three months due to other commitments (and from sheer exhaustion -- maintaining the blog remains a largely 'extracurricular' activity), but we hope that you found something of interest and relevance to your work.
How could the World Bank engage and bring together Egypt’s technology community with water specialists to solve the country’s most pressing water and sanitation challenges? This past October, Cairo hosted the first-ever WaterHackathon in an effort to find out. WaterHackathon Cairo brought together Egyptian technologists with water specialists to brainstorm innovative ICT solutions for Egypt’s biggest water challenges. With 70% of the participants between the ages of 19 and 28, the event captured the energy and commitment of Egypt’s young people.
This spring the World Bank will partner with the Government of Moldova and a range of stakeholders to organize a competitive Open Innovation Hackathon focused on the reuse of open data in Moldova. This is more than just another apps competition, which generate both enthusiasm and skepticism for their ability to promote innovative and sustainable reuse of open data.