The tragedy of our times is that access to quality education is limited. Whether in the US, internationally, education remains a privilege that only select few are entitled to, whereas a majority of this without financial resources are forced to compromise on the quality of education or go without. This perpetuates a cycle of poverty and illiteracy which condemns the poor to stay poor. In the past few years technology has emerged as the single biggest game changer in the field of education. As computing has become cheaper and more powerful, access to technology has increased proportionately. Another trend has been led by those who question traditional education methods and structure. For example many feel that teachers unions lead to a shift in focus away from the child to the pecuniary interests of the teachers. Others argue that the traditional classroom lecture where teachers talk and students listen is no longer effective. These trends have led to some interesting developments. Of these one is the focus of nonprofit organizations on supplying cheap tablets for free in the developing world. Another is the interesting possibility of eliminating school systems and teachers via innovative use of technology.
Information and Communication Technologies
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
"Nations in Transit is Freedom House’s comprehensive, comparative study of democratic development in 29 countries from Central Europe to Eurasia.
Findings in Nations in Transit 2012 suggest that the countries that have achieved the greatest democratic success since the Cold War’s end are now displaying serious vulnerabilities in their young democratic systems. Over the past five years, stagnation and backsliding is evident in key governance indicators across the new EU member states and countries of the Balkans. Hungary, a powerful example of this trend, continued on a negative trajectory that was propelled by the current government’s drive to concentrate power. Ukraine’s scores similarly continued to worsen, with declines in five of the seven Nations in Transit categories, as authorities undertook a broad assault on institutional accountability and transparency. Difficult economic conditions and harsh austerity measures posed challenges to democratic development in the region. In the Balkans, critical reforms stalled in nearly all countries in 2011." READ MORE
"The current state of media freedom in Latin America was driven home in early May, when three journalists were murdered in Mexico within a week of World Press Freedom Day. This dramatic example underscores a larger trend identified by Freedom House in the recently released Freedom of the Press 2012 report, which noted that a range of negative developments over the past decade have left media freedom on the defensive in much of Central and South America." READ MORE
The recent storm about the Facebook IPO and whether big investors got access to better analysis than individual investors made me think about the open agenda again: Whose access are we guaranteeing? If we say that data is open, do we have the moral obligation to help people navigate that information?
An article by Peter Whoriskey and David Hilzenrath in The Washington Post, Scrutiny Focused on Pre-IPO Hype, says of Facebook’s disclosure: "It was just the kind of information that could make you a million. But you couldn’t find it..." They went on to note, "A raft of complex regulations attempt to ensure that the information public companies give out to investors is not only true but is distributed in a way that does not favor big institutional investors over so-called retail investors…"
Development organizations operate at the global level, partnering both with countries to implement country strategies, and within sectors to tackle sectoral challenges. NGOs on the other hand, operate at the grassroots level, working with individuals towards the betterment of communities. Development organizations have the advantage of resources, many years of experience and knowledge but are generally several degrees removed from the individual. NGOs are in touch with the needs of citizens and are able to respond quickly to challenges but unable to scale up. The two have worked together, but so much more can be done. Over the last several years the dynamic has undergone a fundamental change. Cue to technology, which is fast emerging as a game changer in the world of development. Technology enables linkages based on mutual agreement (e.g. development institutions-NGOs) as well as linkages that evolve organically (e.g. a grassroots human rights group in Kenya that builds a relationship with a Swedish development institution focused on social inclusion).
I recently gave a talk about ICT and Development at the annual Re:Campaign conference in Berlin, organized by Oxfam Germany. Anyone who knows me will realize that this is a bit odd – despite being a blogaholic, I am actually Rubbish At Technology. In front of 300 trendy, young (sigh) i-thingy wielding activists, I felt like a Neanderthal at a cocktail party. Still, at least the fear of being shamed up finally got me tweeting two weeks before the conference.
I decided to make a virtue of necessity and set out some core processes in development, and then reflected on what ICT does/doesn’t contribute. Why take this approach (apart from being a techno-caveman, that is)? Because there’s too much magic bulletism in development –microfinance, GM crops and now ‘cyber utopianism’. What all of these have in common is that they are too often presented as ‘get out of jail free’ cards, delivering development without all the messy business of politics and struggle. At best, new technologies shift power balances, sometimes favourably, sometimes not, but they don’t replace the process of struggle in development.
There has been a lot of buzz lately around open development, and new initiatives seem to be popping up everywhere. My colleague Maya talks about what open development means exactly in her blog and Soren Gigler discusses openness for whom and what. Soren points out that “openness and improved accountability for better results are key concepts of the Openness agenda.” However, he cautions that openness is not a one-way street. For positive impact, citizen engagement is crucial and it’s important to “close the feedback-loop” through the facilitation of information flows between citizens, governments, and donors.
In light of this, a prime example of a successful initiative with an innovative citizen-feedback mechanism is “Check My School” (CMS) in the Philippines. Launched by the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) just a little over a year ago, it has managed to get real results on the ground. The results and lessons learned were shared at an event held last week at the World Bank. The speaker was Dondon Parafina, ANSA-EAP’s Network Coordinator.
Perhaps the biggest challenge to harnessing technology for economic development is addressing the digital divide. How can we do so? This is a big question and to answer it comprehensively by looking at all the work on this area is beyond the scope of this blog. However let’s look at a few obvious ways of overcoming the digital divide:
(1) Development projects that focus on, and are relevant to the poor. The Monitoring of Integrated Farm Household Analysis Project (IFHAP) was conducted every five years from 1996 to 2007 in the thirty-three (33) major rice- producing provinces in the Philippines. The study noted the potential of mobile phones as key tool for information dissemination in agriculture as they are widely owned. In 2007, 90% of the farm households surveyed owned at least one mobile phone. I agree with the authors of this study that while policy, infrastructure, and digital divide do indeed aid in assessing readiness; a social dimension is also present, which we ignore at our own peril.
At a screening at the World Bank of Miss Representation on March 8, I had the opportunity to interview the film's director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom. What struck me during the interview was Newsom's firm commitment to changing how women and girls are portrayed in the mainstream media and her use of social media to instigate a conversation and advocate for change. Newsom also mentions that she wants to build a bridge to men and boys, who are a big part of the solution and talks about an upcoming project aimed at men and boys. Hope the interview provides some insights and provokes discussion.
Maya Brahmam's Interview with Jennifer Siebel Newsom
South by Southwest (SXSW) is a company that plans and executes conferences, trade shows, festivals and other events. Collectively, SXSW sponsored events are the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy, with an estimated economic impact of $167 million in 2011 (Wikipedia).
The biggest SXSW story that recently made the rounds was that SXSW, through the company BBH wired homeless people so that they can provide 4G hotspots to “make the invisible “visible”. The BBH company blog says:
This year in Austin … you’ll notice strategically positioned individuals wearing “Homeless Hotspot” t-shirts. These are homeless individuals in the Case Management program at Front Steps Shelter. They’re carrying MiFi devices. Introduce yourself, then log on to their 4G network via your phone or tablet for a quick high-quality connection. You pay what you want (ideally via the PayPal link on the site so we can track finances), and whatever you give goes directly to the person that just sold you access. We’re believers that providing a digital service will earn these individuals more money than a print commodity.