Taking a break from the How Change Happens book this week to head off to Harvard for a Matt Andrews/ODI seminar on ‘Doing Development Differently’ + a day at Oxfam America on Friday. Will report back, I’m sure. Meanwhile, I’ve just finished the draft chapter on the power of social norms, and how they change (and can be changed). ODI provides an absolute gold mine of a crib sheet on this in the shape of Drivers of Change in Gender norms: An annotated bibliography, by Rachel Marcus and Ella Page with Rebecca Calder and Catriona Foley.
One persistent challenge for educational policymakers and planners related to the potential use of informational and communication technologies (ICTs) in remote, low income communities around the world is that most products, services, usage models, expertise, and research related to ICT use in education come from high-income contexts and environments.
One consequence is that technology-enabled 'solutions' are imported and 'made to fit' into what are often much more challenging environments. When they don't work, or where they are too expensive to be replicated at any scale, this is taken as 'evidence' that ICT use in education in such places is irrelevant -- and possibly irresponsible.
That said, lessons are being learned as a result of emerging practices, both good and bad, in the use of ICTs in education in low resource, poor, rural and isolated communities in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific that may be useful to help guide the planning and implementation of educational technology initiatives in such environments. (It may even turn out that the technological innovations that emerge from such places many have a wider relevance …. but that is a topic for another discussion.)
Products like the BRCK (a connectivity device designed and prototyped in Nairobi, Kenya by many of the people behind Ushahidi to better address user needs in places where electricity and internet connections are, for lack of a better word, ‘problematic’) and MobiStation (a solar-powered 'classroom in a suitcase' which features a projector and lots of off-line educational content developed by UNICEF Uganda) remain notable exceptions to the lamentable reality that, for the most part, ‘solutions’ touted for use in schools in e.g. rural Africa, or in isolated communities in the Andes, are designed elsewhere, with little understanding of the practical day-to-day realities and contexts in which such technologies are to be used. Many people who have lived and worked in such environments are quite familiar with well-meaning but comparatively high cost efforts often informed more by the marketing imperatives embedded in many corporate social responsibility efforts than by notions of cost-effectiveness and sustainability over time or the results of user-centered design exercises.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
When people talk about innovation in media, digital devices and social media are most likely to come to mind. Yet, at the end of the day, we all like to watch TV.
Global pay TV revenues, calculated as a total of subscription fees and on-demand movies and TV episode, will reach $209 billion in 2020, an increase from $193 billion in 2013, according to a new report from Digital TV Research. While revenues are expected to decrease in North America by 9.2% (around $9 billion) between 2013 and 2020 and in Western Europe by 1.6%, these declines will be more than offset by revenue growth of nearly $15 billion (up by 47%) in the Asia Pacific region. Revenues will also more than double in Sub-Saharan Africa to $5 billion.
According to figures from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, "Countries will need an extra 1.6 million teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015 and 3.3 million by 2030". The 2013/4 Global Monitoring Report provides a useful discussion of the consequences of this deficit, as well as some strategies for overcoming it. There are, unfortunately, no 'quick fix' solutions here. We didn't get ourselves into this mess overnight, and we won't get out of it overnight either. While longer term efforts tackle this challenge in multiple ways over time, recruiting new teachers and upgrading the skills of others, it is probably also useful to ask:
How do you teach children in places where there are no teachers?
Many proposed answers to this include some consideration of the use of information and communication technologies. Some groups have offered that it may be most efficacious to simply introduce technologies that help enable students to teach themselves, bypassing teachers altogether. That is certainly one approach, but one with, to date, a rather checkered history of success in many instances (although not all), and one that is consistent with a worry that teacher union officials have expressed to me many times over the years: that many of their members fear that they are being, or will be, replaced by new technologies. Rhetoric from certain politicians (I'll refrain from adding a link or three here, but a few minutes with your favorite search engine should help you locate a number of them yourself) and projections from some ministry of finance officials (informed, one suspects, in some cases by data from the marketing departments of certain technology firms) do little to alleviate such concerns. In some cases, the introduction of new technologies undeniably *does* replace certain specific functions or roles that teachers currently perform, or have performed in the past (especially related to what are essentially clerical or administrative functions -- this replacement is presumably not always such a bad thing). In my experience, introducing new technologies in schools actually makes the role and function of teachers more central and critical, but that is perhaps a topic for another blog post.
Faced with severe, in some cases quite extreme, deficits of qualified teachers, especially in remote communities and in subjects like mathematics, science and foreign languages, many countries are in engaged in long term efforts to recruit and train more teachers and upgrade the skills and content masteries of 'low-skilled' teachers already in their system. They are exploring how ICTs can be leveraged to help in these efforts. Where there are pressing needs *now* for teachers that can not be met through conventional approaches or according to the traditional timelines dictated by the capacity and effectiveness of their teacher training institutes, there are looking to see how technologies can help reach students today in schools without qualified teachers -- or in some cases, without any teachers at all.
While I have not seen any research evidence to support this particular contention, I have been in a number of presentations over the years about the 'Finnish success in education' in which the fact that Finnish children watch cartoons with subtitles is mentioned as a contributing factor to their literacy development. Even if there are no peer-reviewed journal articles about the impact of this practice in Finland (if anyone knows of any, please do feel free to send them along!) or many other places (subtitling on television has of course been a common practice in many countries of the world for quite some time), there is some pretty compelling evidence from a little initiative in India that has been reaching big audiences for over a decade that this sort of thing can make a small but meaningful difference in the lives of many illiterate and low literate people. Sometimes innovation is the result of doing something 'old' in a 'new' place (often with a slight twist).
Back in November, PlanetRead was awarded the first-ever 'International Prize' as part of the new U.S. Library of Congress Literacy Awards [disclosure: I am a member of the advisory board for these awards] in recognition of its pioneering work in the practice of Same Language Subtitling (SLS), "the idea of subtitling the lyrics of existing film songs (or music videos) on TV, in the ‘same’ language that they are sung in. Call it Karaoke on Bollywood for mass reading! A deceptively simple innovation, SLS is already delivering regular and inescapable reading practice to 150 million weak-readers in India."
One notable characteristic of each of the three inaugural winners of the Library of Congress Literacy Awards is that they largely work outside of traditional 'educational' institutions as part of their efforts to promote reading. In the case of Reach Out and Read, this means connecting with parents and young children in pediatric exam rooms. 826 National supports store front writing and tutoring centers in local communities. PlanetRead focuses its outreach on a place where, like or not, many people spend a lot of their free time: watching television. Brij Kothari, the founder of PlanetRead, joked during the awards ceremonies at the Library of Congress, some people might say that TV is the enemy of reading, to which we reply: embrace the enemy!
“Ghaas Katne Khurkera, aayo joban hurkera…” (A Nepali folk song)
It would be an injustice to my childhood if I said that this song wasn’t a part of my growing up. Even before I knew the title of the TV drama, I knew this song by heart. I, along with my friends, would happily play and sing along to it. This was a famous song from a tele-series played by Nepal’s most celebrated comedians Madan Krishna Shrestha and Hari Bansha Acharya. Like this song, Madan Krishna and Hari Bansha, endearingly abbreviated as “MaHa” has been a household name to most Nepalis, either in Nepal or residing abroad.
They have, however, been different from other Nepali comedians- their comedy stand-ups or dramas have heavy dose of social morals in their highly creative and hilarious skits. After a break of two years, they are now back on TV with one such creation that infuses issues of social accountability with comedy. The tele-drama is titled “Aan” - A Nepali expression for opening mouth – metaphor for eating/misusing government resources.
“The subject is very dry. This is not like soap operas where the characters have highly dramatic lives. We have to heavily rely on artists’ performances as it should be technically sound to fetch audience attention,” says Hari Bansha Acharya, the producer and the actor for “Aan”. “We have previously worked on anti-corruption but this is the first time we are reflecting the real scenario at the village, district and national level. This is a virgin topic for TV and we hope we will be able to bring the kind of result that we are anticipating.”
One of the ways in which the world we live in today feels very different from the one we lived in even a decade ago is how ‘connected’ we all feel these days. It does seem that there are issues that we all talk about, personages and celebrities that we all know, and technological means of information sharing and exchange that we all share. Yet, can we say that one of the consequences of globalization is that we now have a global public sphere, especially now that Fareed Zakaria of CNN calls his talk show ‘The Global Public Square’?
You will recall that a public sphere is a metaphor for a space that still exists in some contexts: the village square, the town hall… a place where people come together to talk about common concerns, a process that leads to the crystallization of public opinion. Beyond the level of the village or the small town --- situations where most inhabitants can conceivably gather and talk – the public sphere becomes a grand metaphor, but a useful one. As Denis McQuail asserts in his classic text on communication theory, in most national contests today the ‘media are now probably the key institution of the public sphere, and its “quality” will depend on the quality of the media’. [See McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory, Fifth Edition, page 566.]
Demonstrations this week in Cote d’Ivoire prompt a number of troubling questions, including what it means to be a “state broadcaster” when who heads the state is in dispute. The influence of state-run broadcasters may be diminishing across much of sub-Saharan Africa, but their potential impact on fragile democratic institutions has been highlighted this week in west Africa. Who controls the airwaves may turn out to be instrumental in who shapes public perceptions, and through them, political reality – the protestors in Cote d’Ivoire know this, choosing of all institutions as the focus of their protest, the state-run television station.
Suppose you want to run an awareness campaign for, say, methods that prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in a sub-Saharan country. Suppose you want to reach the widest possible audience because most adults are concerned by this issue. Suppose you have a well thought-out campaign message. Which medium do you go for?
For some people in other parts of the world, it was the picture of two top Mexican futbol teams playing earlier this week in an empty Estadio Azteca (one of the world's largest capacity stadiums) that made clear the severity of the current swine flu outbreak. While the sporting passions of the 100,000 missing spectators could presumably satisfied by watching the game on TV, it was less clear how to immediately satisfy the learning needs of over seven million students who were sent home after their schools were ordered closed.
Many educational reformers have long held out hope that computers and other information and computer technologies (ICTs) can play crucial and integral roles in bringing about long-needed changes to education systems. Indeed, many see the introduction of ICTs in schools as a sort of Trojan horse, out of which educational reform and innovation can spring once inside the walls of the traditional (conservative) education establishment. While not denying the potentially transformational impact of ICT use to help meet a wide variety of educational objectives, history has shown that bringing about positive disruptive change isn't achieved by simply flooding schools with computers and related ICTs.
As a result of swine flu, many Mexican schools are experiencing quick, disruptive change of a different sort right now. How might technology be relevant in cases like this? Given the status quo, the use of technology in schools isn't enough to bring about systemic change. But: How might ICTs be useful, even transformational, when this status quo is severely disrupted by some other exogenous factor ... like a pandemic disease outbreak?