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A Talking Book for Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

a school in rural Ghana (courtesy World Bank photo archive)How do you provide vital information and literacy training to people with limited access to either -- especially if they are located in rural parts of Africa?  Cliff Schmidt, the founder of Literacy Bridge, recently stopped by the World Bank to discuss his work in northern Ghana to help investigate answers to this question.  Most groups seeking to harness the power of information and communication technologies in developing countries in support of such objectives pilot test their 'solutions' where it is easiest to do so -- often in (reasonably) well-off urban or suburban settings (often buidling off prior experience using such technologies in OECD countries).  Literacy Bridge is notable in that it prioritizes helping people with the greatest challenges, rather than focusing on the easiest to reach. 

The 'Talking Book' is a low-cost audio device device with recording capabilities -- imagine a rubbery MP3 player about the size of a grapefuit -- rather ingeniously engineered (and re-engineered) to meet specific needs and usage scenarios in very poor communities in Africa.  It is designed for use in local languages, using locally produced content, as tool to promote literacy among primary school children (to cite just one goal and target group). One way to think of the device, Cliff said, is as a  'small portable computer without a display'.  While the project is still in its pilot stages, it is notable for its express interest in investigating solutions that are low cost and scalable from the beginning, and in rigorously monitoring and evaluating the impact of its interventions.

An international digital library for children

Michael Trucano's picture

reading times, they are a-changing ... (image courtesy Deutsches Bundesarchiv)What will reading be like for children around the world in the digital age? 

Ben Bederson thinks this is a question we should be asking children themselves.

Bederson, a professor at the University of Maryland (USA) and the co-founder (with Allison Druin) of the International Children's Digital Library (ICDL), was the keynote presenter at an event in Hangzhou, China earlier this week sponsored by UNESCO, the World Bank, the Korean Education & Research Information Service and a number of other partners.  The ICDL (not to be confused with the International Computer Driving Licence, which shares the same acronym) is dedicated to building a collection of "outstanding children's books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children". The ICDL, which is part of the World Bank-funded READ project in Mongolia, currently features children's books in over 50 languages and receives over 100,000 visitors a month to its web site.

At the heart of Bederson's wide-ranging talk (and indeed at the heart of the ICDL itself) is a belief in the value and importance of child-centered design. Notably (and rather famously, in some quarters) the ICDL utilizes children as design partners in the development of the digital library, and how it is used.  Adopting this approach sometimes yields approaches that, at least for many in the audience in Hangzhou, were rather surprising.

The Maine thing about 1-to-1 computing

Michael Trucano's picture

these days Maine is internationally famous for much more than just lobsters ...A personal digital device,
at the point of learning,
as defined by the student.

The Magellan Plan in Portugal, Plan Ceibal in Uruguay and other various One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiatives around the world ... before all of these well-publicized large scale national educational technology programs came the 'granddaddy' of all such 1-to-1 computing initiatives: the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) in the northeastern corner of the United States.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative web site catalogues a number of Maine "firsts" :

  • first state to seize the potential of technology to transform teaching and learning in classrooms statewide
  • first state with a plan to equip all students and teachers in grades 7 to 12 with personal learning technology statewide
  • first state to equip every 7th and 8th grade student and 7th through 12th grade teacher statewide with personal access to learning technology
  • first state to empower every 7th through 12th grade teacher in every school statewide with professional development and support to fully tap the potential of computers and the Internet
  • first state to provide the option of home Internet access to every 7th and 8th grade student in every school statewide

 
For those looking to learn more about the potential of and practical lessons from 1-to-1 computing initiatives for students, Maine is the longest-running and most-studied such program.

Television for a change (revolution in a box)

Michael Trucano's picture

public domain image of the Braun HF television from 1958 comes courtesy of Oliver Kurmis via Wikimedia CommonsA quick check of the user logs for the World Bank's EduTech blog shows that postings on the use of mobile phones in education consistently draw the most readers.  While highlighting the new and innovative appears to grab the attention of visitors, there is no denying the impact that 'old' technologies like radio and television continue to have on education around the world.  In an optimistic cover story in the most recent edition of Foreign Policy magazine, my World Bank colleague Charles Kenny makes the case in Revolution in a Box that, despite the recent hype around new Web 2.0 tools (like Twitter or Facebook), it is not the computer, but the TV that "can still save the world". 

Linking up with Enlaces (Chile)

Michael Trucano's picture

Enlaces logoWith apologies in advance to initiatives in a handful of other countries considered world leaders in this area (including Costa Rica, Namibia, Thailand, Mexico and Brazil):

Of all the programs in middle income and developing countries that have sought to introduce ICTs systematically into the education, the Chilean experience is perhaps the most lauded.  Enlaces has been the subject of much scholarly and policy attention since its inception almost two decades ago (including a publication from the World Bank back in 2004 [pdf]).

The fact that Chile and Enlaces is considered by many to be a global model of good practice presents policymakers in Chile with a(n enviable) challenge:

Where should Chile look for inspiration as it continues to evolve its programs exploring the effective use of ICTs in education?

A (digital) library ... in your pocket?

Michael Trucano's picture

are paper-bound books destined to go the way of the card catalogue? (image attribution at bottom of this blog posting)

Amazon, the company behind the Kindle, perhaps the world's most famous e-reader, recently announced an international version of its digital book reading device that will allow users to connect via 3G to download content in over 100 countries.   The early success of the Kindle, together with products like the Sony Reader, and the excitement over recently announced products like the Nook and Plastic Logic e-reading devices (Wikipedia has a nice list of these things), portends profound changes to the way we consume and distribute reading materials going forward.  The excellent (and highly recommended) Mobile Libraries blog explores what all of this might mean for one of most venerable of all information gathering, curation and dissemination institutions: the library. While Mobile Libraries documents issues related to how e-books and the like may transform the roles of the library in the industrialized countries of Europe, North America and Asia, there is no clear equivalent information resource highlighting what such advances might mean for developing countries.  But, in various ways, many people and projects are hard at work exploring such issues.

Tracking ICT use in education across Africa

Michael Trucano's picture

watching you watching him - photo courtesy of the World BankThe announcement from the World Bank earlier this week about a new $215 Million Central Africa Backbone Program that will bring low cost, high speed Internet to the region is the latest in a series of good news about improving connectivity across the continent, and between Africa and the rest of the world.   Kenya is just one of many East African countries which can expect a decrease in costs and improvement in quality in the not too distant future as a result of the recent landing of the Seacom and TEAMS cables, and two projects which the World Bank supports, the Regional Connectivity Infrastructure Project (RCIP) and (through the IFC), the EASSy cable.

What does, or might, all of this improved connectivity mean for students and teachers in Africa? How can we keep track of all of the related changes happening throughout the continent?

On-line safety for students in developing countries

Michael Trucano's picture

just how safe and secure? | public domain image courtesy of Membeth at the German Wikipedia project  When participating in discussions with officials planning for the use of computers and the Internet in schools in many developing countries, I am struck by how child Internet safety issues are often only considered as an afterthought -- if indeed they are considered at all.  Yet these issues almost *always* present themselves during implementation, and schools (and education systems) then scramble to figure out what to do.

What do we know about child Internet saftey issues in developing countries?

Preliminary work done by the Berkman Center up at Harvard, in partnership with UNICEF, suggests: Not much.

Low-cost ICT devices in education: An update

Michael Trucano's picture

it takes increasingly fewer pennies to buy these things (but the cost is still too high in many places)Back in 2005 when I was with infoDev, we started maintaining a list containing A short inventory of known projects related to 'low cost ICT user devices for the developing world', with special attention to the education sector' . While the One Laptop Per Child Project was dominating much of the discussion around this topic in many circles, it was clear that there were lots of other interesting initiatives sprouting up that might be worth tracking (scores of them, in fact), but there was no consolidated list of them anywhere.  Many people found the list we cobbled together to be useful and it started to circulate quite widely via email, so we thought it might be a good idea to publish it on the web. So we did. For a good while it was (after the home page) by far the most downloaded item from the infoDev site, and we regularly saw versions of the list (usually without attribution) appearing in reports from consulting firms and in conference presentations.

The list was never meant to be comprehensive, but rather representative of the varied developments that were occuring in this area.  As we said at the time:

Checking in with BridgeIT in Tanzania: Using mobile phones to support teachers

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BridgeIT in Tanzania; image courtesy of the International Youth Foundation

A recent event at the World Bank focused on "Mobile Innovations for Social and Economic Transformation: From Pilots to Scaled-up Implementation" included an interesting session on the use of mobile phones in development. Following on an opening talk by Dr. Mohamed Ally of Canada's Athabasca University (you can download a free copy of his book on mobile learning), Kate Place of the International Youth Foundation provided an update on activities and emerging lessons learned from the BridgeIT project in Tanzania (“Elimu kwa Teknolojia” in Kiswahili), which provides access to digital video content in classrooms ‘on demand’ via mobile phone technology. 

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