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Information and Communication Technologies

Innovative educational technology programs in low- and middle-income countries

Michael Trucano's picture
so many ideas ... are any 'out-of-the-box'?
so many ideas ...
are any 'out-of-the-box'?

Much is made of the need for 'innovation' in education. Bullet points containing words like 'disruption' and 'transformation' increasingly characterize presentations at big education gatherings -- especially in North America, and especially where educational entrepreneurs and 'Silicon Valley-types' are to be found. The popular press is replete with (sometimes breathless) articles about the 'revolutionary' potential of some new technology to impact teaching and learning in ways that are often quite exciting. Indeed: There can be little doubt that the increased diffusion of low(er) cost, (more) powerful, connected IT devices across and within communities offers exciting possibilities and potential to do things differently -- potentially in a good way.

For many people, the use of technology in education constitutes a de facto 'innovation'. Whether or not this belief is actually accurate, or useful, is a legitimate question for discussion. That said, there is no denying that many of the educational innovations celebrated (or at least touted) today are enabled by the use of such technologies in some way.

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Around the world, there few more conservative and traditional sectors than those related to public education. In many ways this is totally understandable, and appropriate. Investments in education represent investments in the future -- of our children, of our future citizens and workers and leaders and community members. We don't want to gamble with or experiment with the way we educate our children and try out too many new things, or so goes one line of thinking. The potential downside, or failure, carries with it consequences that are just too great.

And yet: We know that, for millions children around the world, the education they are getting today isn't actually all that great. Some frightening stats from just one page of the latest Global Monitoring Report [pdf], drawing on recent research from RTI:

  • In Nicaragua in 2011, around 60% of second-graders could not identify numbers correctly and more than 90% were unable to answer a subtraction question.
  • In Malawi, 94% of second-graders could not respond correctly to a single question about a story they read in Chichewa, the national language.
  • In Iraq, 25% of third-graders were unable to tell the sound of a letter in Arabic.

And if you think that the situations in certain education systems are bad: Around the world, many children and adolescents -- 124 million, according to the latest figures from UNESCO -- are out of school and not getting any formal education at all.

In many cases then -- too many -- education systems aren't actually working all that well. In others -- like the global 'high performers' that are regularly held up as 'best practice' examples for other countries to emulate (Finland, Shanghai, Korea, Singapore) -- there is the danger that what worked well in the past (or what appears to be working well now) might not work so well in the future. The future is changing -- shouldn't we change the way we prepare for it? The riskiest course of action might well be one where people and institutions don't take risks.

Where business as usual is decidedly not working today,
or where it is feared that business as usual may not work tomorrow ...
what are some examples of business unusual from which
we might draw inspiration -- as well as practical insight?

Many good examples of this sort are regularly cited from experiences in highly developed, industrialized economies of North America, Europe and East Asia. No doubt much can be, and will be, profitably learned from what is happening such places. That said, the challenges facing education systems and families around the world are particularly acute where the needs are greatest: in many low- and middle-income countries, and especially within remote communities and traditionally disadvantaged populations.

Examples of 'innovation in education' from such places might just be more relevant to policymakers in Phnom Penh or Quito than are ones which originate in, say Palo Alto or Cambridge. (And, it is perhaps worth noting, that, if you believe that innovation often arises 'at the edges', where constraints compel people to be inventive in their approaches to solving problems in ways that folks in more resource-rich environments may never consider, it may just be that policymakers in Paris and Canberra may learn something to learn from what's happening in 'developing countries' as well.)

What examples do we have of innovative uses of educational technologies in such places?

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Geek Heresy, by Kentaro Toyama: a book review

Duncan Green's picture

Gawain KripkeGuest post by Gawain Kripke, Oxfam America’s Director of Policy, on Kentaro Toyama's book Geek Heresy.

Geek Heresy book coverI love my smart phone. It’s awesome and it makes me more awesome. I honestly think that my life is much better with it than without. It makes me a better worker – able to review documents, communicate with colleagues, keep projects moving smoothly even when I’m out of the office.   It makes me a better citizen – I”m able to read news and events, can report emergencies and contribute to public safety and knowledge by feeding in through networks.  I think I’m a better parent – or at least it makes parenting easier.  All the logistics of picking up kids and changing schedules are greatly assisted by having my mobile phone.  It’s not cool to say so, but I think my mobile phone is a fundamentally empowering technology that helps make me a better person and helps me live a better life.

So, why shouldn’t mobile phones do the same for other people, including poor ones?  In researching this idea, I came across Kentaro Toyama.  I called him up, and in a long conversation, he batted down my fumbling ideas effortlessly and gracefully.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Toyama has emerged as a leading skeptic of technology-led concepts of development.  He’s now published Geek Heresy, a book that is worth reading, both for proponents and skeptics of technology in development.

Good communication strategy is essential for good governance

Ravi Kumar's picture
2010 post earthquake Haiti. Photo - Mercy Corps Mercy Corps
2010 post earthquake Haiti. Photo: Mercy Corps


When trust in governments around the world is at a historic low, and a myriad of challenges continue to overwhelm leaders, it’s imperative for government agencies to revamp their strategic communications approach.
 
Whether it is during a natural disaster or a policy consultation process, citizens expect honest and useful communications from their government agencies. This expectation isn’t misplaced, as they now live in a world where mobile phones and the Internet are ubiquitous.
 
Governments often succeed or fail because of the way they communicate their vision, mission and policy objectives with the wider citizenry. In a digital age, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that governments ought to be proactive in the way they communicate and engage with citizens.
 
The decreasing price of technology such as mobile phones is leading to the rapid democratization of digital communicators.
 
Recently, when the devastating earthquake hit Nepal, Nepalis inside and outside the country wanted actionable information as soon as possible. Many of them were talking about the devastation even before the government’s initial statement. Twitter and Facebook are popular in Nepal and people were using the platforms to talk about damage and rescue.
 
As a Nepali citizen, I know my government has yet to be digitally savvy. Thankfully, the government launched a Twitter account to share the latest devastation numbers and information about rescue operation. It was a strategic use of the tool in a time of crisis.

The (ongoing) quest for Latin America’s role in internet governance

CGCS's picture

Carolina Aguerre and Hernan Galperin of UDESA discuss the results of their research into Latin American internet governance mechanisms. Click here to read the full report.

Marco civil da internetSince the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in November 2012, policy experts and scholars have demonstrated a more focused interest in understanding regional variations in internet governance preferences and organizational models. Yet many of these efforts have failed to fully grasp the complexity of a region such as Latin America. Part of the problem lies in the lack of a strong supranational political institution such as the European Union. Latin America is a patchwork quilt of various political and trade agreements, none of which provide a coherent framework for collective action on critical internet governance issues.

Our research suggests that countries in the region should not be characterized as “swing states (Maurer and Morgus, 2014),” for many have a long-standing record of formal and/or tacit support for the current multistakeholder governance model. The analysis looks at three dimensions of governance: the technical, the institutional, and the systemic. We focus our research on four case studies: Argentina, Costa Rica, and Mexico, with Brazil serving as a comparative reference, due to its status as a well-documented, successful model of multistakeholder governance. The three cases offer a fascinating perspective on the challenges that countries face in the early stages of institutional-building for internet governance. In particular, we analyze the key forces that shape the strategies of the multiple stakeholders involved, thus shedding light on the different organizational models that are emerging across the region.

Tablets in education

Michael Trucano's picture
tablets: the cure for what ails education?
tablets: the cure for
what ails education?

While it can sometimes be difficult to understand just what exactly the related question or challenge is, in many education systems around the world, the 'answer' or 'solution' put forward is increasing the same:

'Tablets!'

Indeed, it seems that, over the past few years, not a week has gone by without some sort of high profile announcement about a new educational tablet initiative somewhere -- or about changes to an existing such project.

Excitement about the promise and potential of information and communication technology (ICT) devices for use in teaching and learning has been around for a few decades, but only recently has this been translated into large scale purchases of such devices for use in schools outside of industrialized, 'highly developed' countries. What's happening where, you ask?

Here are some random, but fairly representative, reports from recent years about this undeniable trend:

Not all the news is about tablets going *out* to schools; devices can flow in the reverse direction as well:

It's true that not everything that is announced actually comes to pass. Timelines are often a moving target, and the scope and/or scale of a project as initially conceived can change radically. But the trend is clear.

Why are educational policymakers authorizing the purchases of so many tablets in so many education systems around the world?

Banning and unbanning phones in schools

Michael Trucano's picture
forbidden ... or encouraged?
forbidden ... or encouraged?
When planning for new initiatives that will introduce and/or utilize information and communications technologies (ICTs) in some way, a simple general rule of thumb is worth considering:

The best technology is often the one you already have, know how to (and do) use, and can afford. In many places around the world, this technology is the mobile phone.

This is not to contend that 'new' technology devices should not be considered -- far from it! Rather, this general guidance is meant to serve as a reminder for planners and decisionmakers to consider how it might be possible to take advantage of and leverage *existing* technologies, and the activities and processes these technologies enable, before committing to introduce totally new (or foreign) technology tools into a given environment. Just because something is new doesn't mean that it is automatically better. Of course: It doesn't mean that it is worse, either.

At a conceptual level, when considering what technology devices are to be utilized as part of a given project or activity, mobile phones may often be the 'best' technology. But: Does that make the mobile phone an appropriate or practical technology choice for use in schools, and/or by students and teachers?

It depends.

When it comes to mobile phones and the education sector, things aren't so simple, and answers vary considerably by place -- and are changing. In some countries and schools, mobile phones are not allowed at all for students (and in some cases for teachers as well) and/or their use is limited to certain circumstances inside (and in some instances even outside) of school. In other places, phones are allowed with few restrictions. In yet other places, long time bans on phones are being reversed. Even where bans are in place, phones are still to be found in schools, for better and for worse, and they are used for a variety of purposes (again, for better and for worse).
 
What are some current perspectives and practices related to
the use of mobile phones in schools and education systems around the world?

Supporting the ICT sector in Somalia

Rachel Firestone's picture
 
Photo: Cilmi Waare/Radio Mogadishu

Somalia’s ICT sector – particularly mobile communications – is already one of the brightest spots in its economy. It could soon reach a tipping point where market competition, equitable distribution and demand-driven efficiency can grow exponentially and transform operating environments for both government and individual citizens.
 
Despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of a public sector presence in a 20-year civil war, private, unlicensed mobile companies, using satellite for international communications, have emerged to meet the high demand for communications, especially with the large Somali diaspora. In terms of mobile penetration rates, Somalia is a leader in the region, with higher rates and lower prices than neighboring Djibouti and Ethiopia, which both enjoy higher levels of stability but retain state-owned monopolies.
 
However, the current lack of a legal framework for both the ICT and financial sectors is a source of risk potentially cramping the Somali economy. Critical areas – including remittances, mobile banking and mobile-money services and mobile services – are influenced and, in some cases, controlled by large companies. The market structure is still evolving, with de facto consolidation around larger companies, resulting from mergers and alliances. Although consolidation can bring some consumer benefits and help in achieving economies of scale, the future licensing framework will need to take into account competition policy considerations and enforce interconnection.
 
An important opportunity for the passing of regulation for the ICT sector, in the form of Somalia’s Communications Act, is now at hand.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
 

State of Civil Society Report
CIVICUS alliance
The scale of the threats to civic space should not be underestimated. CIVICUS’ analysis suggests that, in 2014, there were serious threats to civic freedoms in at least 96 countries around the world. If you take these countries’ populations into account, this means that 67 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guaranteed our freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, 6 out of 7 humans live in countries where these freedoms were under threat. And even the most mature democracies are not exempt

6 Astounding Ways Africa Is Paving the Way for the Future of Technology
Open Mic
Every week, the American tech sector uses the most advanced mobile technologies in the world to create some new meaningless distraction. Tinder for dogs, Airbnb for boats, Yo — all sorts of luxury convenience tools created to manufacture and solve problems that don't exist and extract some in-app purchases along the way. Meanwhile, in Africa, a budding generation of technologists, coders and entrepreneurs are rising to solve their continent's most pressing problems. Entire new industries around payment solutions, crowdsourcing and entertainment media are springing up in tech hubs in Kenya, Nigeria and other countries.  This is the rise of Silicon Savannah — and a few ways it's going to change the global face of technology.

Media (R)evolutions: The internet gets a new postal system

Roxanne Bauer's picture

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.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, an Internet standard communications protocol, IPv4 or Internet Protocol Version 4, was conceived to interconnect research universities and government facilities in the United States. IPv4 assigns each device connected to the Internet with its own unique identification number, known as an IP address, so that devices can find and communicate with one another. At the time, the quite large number of IP addresses that IPv4 provided for— 4.3 billion— seemed like an almost limitless number that would never run out.

Flash forward to today in which the world population surpasses 7 billion people and the Internet of Things, wearables, and other advances in technology— which all require that each device has its own IP address— and the pool of IP addresses has been exhausted.  Devices now sometimes share IP addresses, resulting in delays and difficulties in routing Internet traffic and limitng the growth of the Internet— particularly in emerging markets. Mobile technologies, which are particularly important to developing countries are held back because network providers cannot assign unique addresses to every mobile device. 

This is where IPv6 comes in.  Not only does it substantially increase the number of addresses, but it also enables more efficient routing, more efficient use of modern hardware, and the ability to support modern networking concepts like mobility.  In July 2015, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the regional organization in charge of assigning IP addresses in North America, began wait-listing applicants because it has exhausted its supply of IP addresses under IPv4.  The Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Latin America regions ran out before that.


From IPv4 to IPv6

On the geopolitics of "platforms"

CGCS's picture

Robyn Caplan is one of ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar. In this blog post, the evolving relationships between social and traditional media and between politics and information policy regimes are reviewed.

Map of the frequency with which people in different places @reply to each other on TwitterIn the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach a younger generation that has moved away from traditional media. This shift, which began as a gradual adoption by state and public officials over the last several years, is quickly gaining speed. Iranian politicians, such as President Rouhani, have also taken to Twitter, a medium still banned in their own country. The low barriers to entry and high potential return make social media an ideal space for geopolitical actors to experiment with their communications strategies. ISIS, for example, has developed a skillful social media strategy over the last few years, building up a large following (which emerged out of both shock and awe) with whom they can now communicate directly (Morgan, 2015, p. 2). As more information is disseminated through these platforms, considering the role that technological and algorithmic design has on geopolitics is increasingly important.


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