Daily Archives: 19 October 2012

Verizon Foundation’s Education Initiative

According to an article from the Sacramento Bee, the Verizon Foundation launched an Education Initiative on October 18th, 2012, to improve student learning in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through mobile technologies. This initiative used three main programs, such as the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, Verizon Innovative Learning Schools and the new Thinkfinity platform.

The Innovative App Challenge:

The Innovative App Challenge is a competition that challenges middle and high school students to design ideas for mobile apps that integrate STEM subjects. The theory is that these mobile apps will help solve a problem in the student’s community. The winner’s school will receive a $10,000 cash grant and training to make the app a reality, with training and building support.

Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program:

The Verizon Innovative Learning Schools Program is a training program that is intended to help teachers make the most of technology and incorporate mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, into classroom instruction to improve student achievement in STEM subjects. This plan is very different from the case study on “One Laptop per Child” we spoke about in class because it recognizes the teachers as being a crucial determinant on the effectiveness of using technology in the classroom. Additionally, and most importantly, it provides the teachers with training on how to integrate and most efficiently utilize the provided technology. In partnership, the International Society for Technology in Education and the Verizon Foundation has already launched the program in 12 schools and they have plans on expanding pending success of the program.

Thinkfinity:

This website provides U.S. teachers with free access to new training resources from the Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program and an extensive collection of digital content that were created by leading educational organizations.

After learning more about the sense of moral responsibility that the Verizon Foundation exhibits, I regret not subscribing to their service.  The article closes by saying, “Since 2000, the Verizon Foundation has invested more than half a billion dollars to improve the communities where Verizon employees work and live. Verizon’s employees are generous with their donations and their time, having logged more than 6.2 million hours of service to make a positive difference in their communities” (Sacramento Bee, 2012).

Advertisements

OLPC in “Infrustructurally-Challenged” Ethiopia

As we discussed in class, the OLPC program certainly falls victim to its share of flaws, particularly in the lesser developed countries of the world. However, on the map on the OLPC website, the program shows a total of 6,000 laptops distributed to Ethiopian children. This seems like a poorly prescribed solution for education in a country that boasts a miniscule 0.7% internet penetration rate (internet world stats). What’s more, only 60% of the children of the country are enrolled in school, with a teacher-student ratio of 1 to 72 (OLPC Ethiopia Wikipedia Page). As a result, providing laptop access seems like a poorly evaluated initiative to combat more pressing issues.

As it turns out, it was. Not only were the XO laptops ineffective in a school environment, but, as Wayan Vota explains, they were banned by teachers and parents alike. Due to the class structure of teachers writing on the board while students copy down lessons, the laptops served as merely ultra-expensive notebooks. It is difficult to place blame on the teachers here because they had no training with the laptops, so they simply applied the technology to the system they know. Students began to explore the machines’ capabilities, undermining the teachers’ lessons. This tendency painted the laptops in a very negative light for parents and teachers, who saw the machines as more of toys than study facilitators, although this may be in part due to the introduction of educational technology to a society more acclimated to traditional teaching methods. Although the laptops do provide children with the chance to improve their e-literacy in a country largely devoid of technology, these advances will go largely unnoticed by academic evaluations because the national exam tests students on their ability to memorize the information presented in class. Beyond the obvious flaws of the OLPC program, Ethiopia demonstrates how societal problems can compound the project’s inherent problems.

Contrary to the stance on these machines that Ethiopian elders have taken, a study by the University of Groningen reveals that the laptops may be more effective than the teachers and parents would like to admit. The preponderance of the 662 students surveyed claimed to use the machines everyday, or at the very least “often per week” (although usage was higher in the city compared to rural areas). In addition, the overwhelmingly favorite use for the laptop was for writing with a total of 270 individuals (compared to only 39 choosing gaming). Most notably however, is the trend in motivation to attend school (particularly in the countryside), where students with laptops demonstrated a substantially higher level of motivation to attend school. Although it is easy to point out glaring flaws in the OLPC program, some less conventional measurements may indicate that the laptops are not only usable, but support learning as well.


OLPC in Colombia

After reading the Warschauer & Ames article on One Laptop per Child, I was inspired to research Colombia, my country of choice for my paper, to see what kind of progress the program has made there. OLPC has had a presence in Colombia since 2008. I found an interesting video in which Nicholas Negroponte discusses bringing the project to Colombia:

The interesting thing about the way the program was initially implemented is that it was a partnership with the Colombian Ministry of Defense. A big object in the way of development in Colombia is the civil war that has been waged there almost constantly since 1964 between the government and various guerrilla groups. The government has been accused by many of committing human rights violations throughout the conflict. For this reason it is a good sign that the Ministry of Defense would attempt to fight its image problem by redeeming itself with participation in the OLPC program. However, it also raises skepticism at whether or not the Ministry is doing it for the right reasons or rather as a tool for propaganda or other hidden agenda.

Despite arguments on the program’s true impact, Colombia has had great success in terms of numbers of laptops distributed. The local governor in Caldas purchased 65,000 laptops to be distributed through the region. Native star Shakira’s foundation purchased 700 laptops for three schools in different Colombian cities. Most recently 11,000 laptops were distributed to public schoolchildren in the city of Itagüí. Colombia currently has 54 educational institutions across the country that implement the OLPC program independently. While we have learned about the detractions of the OLPC program, it is hard to argue that getting that many laptops in the hand of children and providing them with at least the opportunity to learn and experiment with technology is a bad thing. Education is a huge problem that is holding back development in Colombia and the country is desperate for progress of any kind. At the very least the country currently has a greater capacity for ICT4D than it did before the implementation of the OLPC project.


Text4Baby

Image

As discussed in class by our guest speaker, a very similar and interesting project to the Text4Health initiative is the Text4Baby project.  Similar to Text4Health, Text4Baby sends messages with tips for pregnancy and parents with babies, in order to help guide them through the confusing early years.  Some things that the messages discuss include car seat safety, carbon monoxide poisioning, as well as other helpful tips and safety guidelines.

One useful aspect to consider when thinking about this program is who is funding and supporting it. The sponsor is Johnson & Johnson, who make baby supplies.  This type of social entrepanuership is very beneficial and useful because it allows for helpful development programs such as this one to be funded by large corporations who have enough money to continue to give money.

One of the strengths of the Text4Health program is that the messages were personalized for the users, so the texts to the phone included the childs name.  Although the messages in Text4Baby are not personalized in the same way, they are personalized in the sense that they correspond to the stage in the pregnancy that the mother is in, or the age of the child she has.  Another issue discussed in the Text4Health lecture is the idea of not sending too many messages, as that can lead to people unsubscribing from the service.  Text4Baby has encountered a similar finding, and therefore sends only approx. 3 messages a week to prevent people from getting rid of their service.  The only time when they do not follow this rule is when there is some sort of breaking or urgent news that needs to be texted out right away.

Learning about the Text4Baby platform is interesting after discovering the Text4Health platform because it is nice to see the wide range of things that this texting service could be used for.  I look forward to seeing what other innovative text-based programs are developed in the future.


OLPC: Peru

As we read in our assigned readings this week, specifically the report from the Inter-American Development Bank evaluating the “Una Laptop por Niño” program in Peru, One Laptop Per Child Programs are not magical cure-alls for the many educational ailments that plague developing countries (not to mention our own.) Further evidence of the lack of success for this program comes from a Forbes article where the author states that the One Laptop Per Child program may have widened gap between rich and poor students in Peru. The article emphasizes the fact that technology alone cannot transform education. This particular program, and many like it, failed to think through the training of teachers or the redesign of school program to get the most “bang for your buck”. Where technology has been really effective in transforming education it is with an entirely new schooling model, like online education. This has not been the case in Peru.

However, this Miami Herald article argues that the program should not be evaluated primarily on its ability to improve test scores. It claims that the true purpose of the One Laptop Per Child program in Peru was to increase social inclusion, and that it has succeeded in this regard. “Education is a long term project that takes years to translate into better test results,” the author argues. The article does recognize that more math and language software would improve the program and that more teacher training is essential to the success of the program, but believes that we should not discount the One Laptop Per Child program just yet.

In this interview with Sandro Marcone, General Director for the General Directorate of Educational Technologies (DIGETE) of the Peruvian Ministry of Education, some of these issues are addressed. Marcone particularly emphasizes a new method of teacher training in which, during their last two years of training, future teachers will receive instruction in the use of ICT in the classroom, particularly suited for the One Laptop Per Child program. Marcone also informs his interviewer that the national government will no longer be responsible for providing laptops to schoolchildren. Instead, regional governments, NGOs, and parents will take on the responsibility of purchasing laptops for their children. One can imagine the complications that might arise in this situation– especially in areas with low penetration of NGOs, impoverished parents, and weak regional governments.

After spending a semester studying abroad in Peru and traveling and volunteering extensively within the country, I found these articles, especially Marcone’s interview, fascinating. I spent time volunteering in three different schools in three very distinct regions of Peru– the coastal desert in an urban slum, a small village in the rainforest, and a village high in the rural Andes. Interestingly, none of these schools provided laptops for their schoolchildren. In fact, only the rainforest school even had a computer lab (the computers had been donated fairly recently by an NGO; however, several were quite old and already not functioning.) Access to the internet was available in only the urban slum outside of Lima. These three communities represent some of the most marginalized and impoverished sectors of Peruvian society and yet the One Laptop Per Child program did not reach them. Whether, as the Forbes article and the report from the IDB argue, the One Laptop Per Child program is simply not enough to transform the education of Peruvian children or, as the Miami Herald and Sandro Marcone believe, this program is worth continuing, it will not drastically alter the course of development and education in Peru until it begins to reach millions of the most impoverished and marginalized Peruvians and provide the infrastructure to match.


Rural Education Action Plan and Computer-Assisted Learning

Despite the minimal success of the OLPC program, there remain other avenues to implement computer-assisted learning in schools. In China, the Rural Education Action Project (REAP) uses similar methods to improve the quality of education in rural China. The distribution of services (health, education, infrastructure, etc.) is extremely uneven due to the urban-rural divide. Students in rural areas can be nearly two years behind their urban counterparts, which means that they will likely be unable to attend college, or even high school.

The purpose of the program is to allow for consistent, controlled lessons that are an addition to the regular curriculum. If the quality of education in rural China was on par with that of its urban counterpart, it could potentially stem destabilization of the country.

While it was interesting to find another case study of CAL projects and the type of development issues they seek to address, I can’t help but feel that this program may have similar downfalls for OLPC. It seems to subscribe to the same philosophy of ‘computer automatically equals education’, without stopping to question if a computer is really the best fit for a child’s education needs.

A laptop, or any other tool, shouldn’t (and cannot) be used as a universal solution to a complex, nuanced problem. Instead of changing the medium of education (from traditional books and projects to computer based lessons), maybe development programs should aim to transform the relationship between technology and individuals.  By treating technology as a replacement for education, rather than a supplement, these programs ultimately end up leading a misguided effort.


Azerbaijan: OLPC in the conflict region

As I discussed in more depth in my paper, Azerbaijan is a unique case study country for ICT4D because it has a strong incentive to transition from an oil-based economy to a technology-based economy; its oil reserves will be depleted in approximately 30 years, and the small post-soviet world country is located such that it could become a tech hub between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. To add to that, its government has laid out a greatly publicized strategy for ICT use, and the nation enjoys high literacy and (relatively high) education levels.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan is known for its widespread corruption in government and bureaucracy. There is a strong digital divide, largely between the urban population and remote rural population. Perhaps the most serious obstacle standing between Azerbaijan and a tech-based economy with positive effects on development is the political instability created by the ongoing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which comprises a large portion of territory and is coveted by both Azerbaijan and Armenia for its oil reserves.

Imagine my surprise when I read this article explaining that One Laptop Per Child has sent 3,300 laptops to children in the conflict region only. The ICT4Ds were deployed very recently– just in April of this year– and online information on the project is sporadic and tough to locate. I can understand the rationale behind the deployment to Nagorno-Karabakh to some degree: children in a conflict region undoubtedly have more obstacles to getting a quality education, and the article  adds, “Education is a key factor to breaking the vicious cycle of ethnic hatred and violence for children who live in conflict zones.” However, I can’t help but wonder how ICT4D interventions could influence political conflict situations and contribute to shifts in digital divides. I plan on doing some more digging and searching for the donors behind the OLPCs sent to  Nagorno-Karabakh. I’d also like to compare access to tech tools in education between students in the conflict region and other marginalized groups, like the rural poor, in the rest of Azerbaijan.