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October 2010

On the lookout for cool educational technology projects

Michael Trucano's picture

wow, a lot is happening, but it's hard to make out the specificsOne question I am regularly asked (by colleagues at funding agencies, in governments, and from private groups looking to network with like-minded groups) is,

Can you point us to some innovative or exemplary ICT & education projects in developing countries?

As follow-up, they often note that "We already know about prominent projects like Microsoft Partners in Learning, Intel Teach and One Laptop Per Child, but what else is out there that we should know about?"

In an attempt to help provide partial answers to such queries, this post is a continuation of sorts of a blog entry we published in 2009 which continues to generate a good amount of regular traffic despite being over a year old, Finding (useful) research on ICT use in education in developing countries.   Those who haven't read that post, but who have made it this far through this one, are encouraged to go back and read it, as the information in it is still quite relevant (and so I won't repeat much of it here), as well as a post from early 2010 on ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch -- and Learn From.

Evaluating the evaluating of the Millennium Villages Project

Michael Trucano's picture

not all millennium projects are this neatly contained within clearly defined bordersWhen is the rigorous impact evaluation of development projects a luxury, and when is it a necessity?

This is a question asked in a new paper examing the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), a high profile initiative that, according to its web site, offers a "bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty".

In the words of one of the authors of When Does Rigorous Impact Evaluation Make a Difference? The Case of the Millennium Villages, "We show how easy it can be to get the wrong idea about the project’s impacts when careful, scientific impact evaluation methods are not used. And we detail how the impact evaluation could be done better, at low cost."  The paper underscores the importance of comparing trends identified within a project activity with those in comparator sites if one is to determine the actual impact of a specific project.  This sentiment should come as no surprise to those familiar with an area of exploding interest in the international donor and development community -- that of the usefulness of randomized evaluations.

Stuffing the Internet in a box and shipping it to schools in Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

there are multiple options for moving forwardOver the past decade or so, increasing numbers of groups have been working on answers to variations of the following question:

How can the wealth of educational resources on the Internet be brought to the majority of African schools that are today 'un-connected'?

While the Internet has not wrought the similar types of profound, broad societal changes in Africa that it has in other parts of the world, the connectivity landscape in Africa is in fact changing very quickly in many places (for the better!), with (for example) macro-level announcements about progress with new fibre optic cables coming on what seems like a weekly basis.

(For those who like such things, here's a great map to track technical progress in this area.  For acronym fans, here are links to announcements about some of the major backbone connectivity initiatives in Africa: Glo,  RCIPEASSyTEAMS, Seacom and LION2.) 

Earlier this year the total number of mobile phone subscribers in Africa (over 300 million) passed the total in North America and, while access to the Internet via mobile phones is still low across the continent, it is growing quickly.  In Nigeria, for example, published reports now have mobile phones as the primary access device to the Internet in Africa's most populous country.  There is even increasing talk (and some action) of connecting African educational institutions to the 'cloud' in various ways. 

That said, it also undeniable that improvements in connectivity are not coming fast enough, or at a high enough speed or quality, or cheaply enough, for all citizens and schools, especially outside major population centers -- and won't any time in the near future.