Author Archives: cobykg

Rwanda National ICT Resources

Government Resources

1.) Rwanda National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) Policy and Action Plan

Although the document does not say when it was last updated, it was created in 2000 and the plans are outlined until 2020.  The text is in English and was produced by the Minister in charge of ICT in the Office of the President. This document focuses on NICI III, however it also provides information on NICI I, II and IV. Here is a link to the Rwandan Government website (the website to the Ministry of ICT infrastructure does not work).

2.) Rwanda Vision 2020

The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning created this document in July of 2000.  It is printed in English and outlines Rwanda’s 2020 Vision to be a middle-income, knowledge-based society by 2020.  Vision 2020 cites ICT4D as one of the three crosscutting areas to achieve development goals.

Non-government Resources

1.) National e-Strategies for Development

This report was written by the International Telecommunication Union and it provides information on Rwanda from pgs 23-25.

2.) The Global Information Technology Report 2012

Rwanda’s Networked Readiness Index and sub-indexes is on pg 282.

3.) One Laptop per Child in Rwanda

Overall, information on Rwanda’s ICT plans is very accessible. The Government of Rwanda prioritizes the role of ICTs to accelerate the country’s developmental efforts.  Plans to become a technology-driven society by 2020 are closely mapped out in the country’s NICI plans.

ICT4D Reflection

What I enjoyed most about this course is that we learned by doing.  As a first time blogger, tweeter and mapper, I appreciated learning the material while simultaneously becoming fluent with programs relevant to the field. In many development classes, it can be difficult to see the value in what you are doing as everything seems theoretical and you are rarely discussing current issues.  However, in this class it seemed like we were constantly learning about current technologies and their application in the developing world.  When I was blogging, I connected frameworks discussed in class to current ICT development projects.  When I was tweeting, I was following social media trends of the US election and sharing information of disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy. When I was mapping, I was able to see the organization and structure of Ugandan slum, Bwaise in the city of Kampala.

I gained other valuable takeaways from the class by looking at the development plans of my focus country, Rwanda, within the context of ICTs.  I enjoyed comparing Rwanda’s National Information and Communication Infrastructure Plan to the WSIS Action Line Items.  It was striking for me to see the similarities in the frameworks.  Also, by looking at the various ranking systems and statistics of Rwanda in terms of ICTs, I was able to observe development through different lens perspectives.  Rwanda ranked 142/152 in the ICT Development Index, tracking the progress countries are making towards becoming information societies, but ranked 82/142 on the Network Readiness Index, measuring the degree to which economies across the world leverage ICTs to increase competitiveness.  Another interesting statistic that stuck with me was from 2008 to 2010, Rwanda experienced one of the highest Internet user growth rates of 8900%! However, this number is not nearly as impressive knowing that in 2009, only 7% of Rwanda had electricity.  It was also interesting to learn of Rwanda’s commitment to improving education and their strong partnership with One Laptop Per Child but then learning the various challenges and unsustainable practices of the organization.

Overall, I took a lot away from this class. I greatly enjoyed learning about the practical applications of technology in the lives of vulnerable populations, not only in developing countries, but throughout the world.  In moving forward, I now have a much greater understanding of the complexities of ICT4D and a much more critical eye when considering the role of technology in development.

Tech issues for Obama in his second term

Going with the theme of this week, I read an article on CNN yesterday about 5 big tech issues that Obama is faced with in his upcoming term.

Piracy: The highly contentious Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) earlier this year brought up many discussions about anti-piracy, freedom of speech and online privacy.  The bill did not pass but the Obama administration is going to have to revisit piracy issues of illegally downloaded content, preventing copyright infringement without overtly censoring the public and violating the first amendment.

Privacy: Violations of individual’s privacy can be seen in the way that companies collect and track consumers online activity and the government collects data and monitors people for security purposes.  There are ambiguous laws regarding the legality of government tracking individuals through digital communication.  The Obama administration will need to update the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, which limits the government’s online access to personal information.

Cybersecurity: Cyber vulnerability of critical US industries and infrastructures such as transportation, water or nuclear and chemical plants are serious threats to national security that must be addressed.  The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 attempted to increase collaboration between the government and private sector but the act did not pass, as there was much disapproval from the Senate and private industries.  This is a pressing issue that Obama must face in the coming years.

STEM education: There is an increased demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals (STEM).  The Obama administration launched the national STEM Master Teacher Corps program to increase the amount of qualified teachers to educate students in these pertinent fields.  Obama plans to develop this program and increase the Pell Grant program to allow more students to receive higher education.

Immigration reform: The Obama administration has tried to allow for more qualified tech graduates from other countries to stay in the US.  There have been efforts to provide more green cards to skilled workers to support the US emerging IT field. The Startup Act 2.0 aims to provide 50,000 visas to foreign STEM to get upper level degrees in the US.

Ai Weiwei: Social Media for Social Change

The Chinese government closely monitors Internet traffic and censors citizens’ ability to access share/access information.  As we discussed in class, the country’s strict censorship has been dubbed the ‘Great Firewall of China’.  Recently I watched a documentary called Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry by Alison Krayman. The film depicts Ai, an international artist and political activist, as he speaks out against the Chinese government, largely through social media as a medium for his art.  He states, “Internet is the answer to achieve a civil society,” and explains that Twitter and blogs provides Chinese citizens with a sense of freedom they have never had before.

He has used these platforms to mobilize citizens and raise international awareness of unethical practices of the Chinese government.  In 2008, the Sichuan Earthquake had devastating effects on the state of China. The communist government did not reveal details of citizen casualties, especially among school children.  Investigations proved that poor construction of Chinese schools led to the unnecessary death of thousands of young students.  Through the Internet, Ai Weiwei organized volunteers to visit schools and even knock door-to-door to learn of the specific children that were harmed by the disaster.  In total, Ai developed a database of over 5,219 students killed and created a memorial piece of art in their honor.

Through the power of social media, Ai strives to transform China into a “modern society” and promote freedom of speech for the Chinese people. He encourages young people to get involved in social media as this powerful medium allows individuals to instantly reach the masses and has the potential to make a significant impact on society.

Here is a TED Talk about Ai Weiwei and his efforts in China to leverage social media for social change.

iREAD Pilot Project in Ghana

I read about a project from the WorldReader e-Reader Pilot in Ghana.   As part of the Millennium Development Goals to achieve universal education, the project distributed e-reader technology to Ghanaian primary, junior and senior school students.  After extensive evaluation of the iREAD (Impact on Reading of E-readers and Digital content) Ghana Pilot Study showed much of the projects initial success as well as challenges to address in the future.  The e-reader allowed students to gain immediate access to academic and personal reading material including books, textbooks, magazines and various articles.  Access to these materials allowed students to a have greater number of texts, which were previously limited to the resources available in their local library.  On average, students had 107 books on their e-reader over the course of the project.  The initiative also put a large emphasis on Ghanaian books, allowing students to gain access to culturally relevant information as well as outside resources.   In addition to the immediate impact on students, teachers also reaped benefits by accessing current textbooks and carry out research to prepare lessons rather than relying on outdated and limited textbooks.

The outcome of the pilot study revealed the project increased student’s enthusiasm about reading and simultaneously allowed students to develop useful ICT skills.  Students in primary school exhibited improved standardized tests scores, while older students did not display significant gains as a result of the technology.  Unexpected challenges in the project included technical problems with the e-reader (about 40% of the e-readers broke), which hindered the long-term success of the project. In addition, the article also suggests that a lack of ICT knowledge and low literacy rates led to the accidental deletion of material and an increased distraction from its entertainment functions.

While the project has initially revealed some promising results, several common challenges (breakages, literacy, electricity, Internet) stand in the way of the e-readers practicality and sustainability to increase literacy rates and improve educational opportunities in the developing world.

For a more thorough analysis of the iREAD project in Ghana, please check out this link.

Ushahidi open source platform

In class we have briefly talked about Ushahidi, an open source platform that allows users to send crisis reports through a variety of distribution channels including SMS, email, Twitter and the web. The idea started during the post-election upheaval in Kenya when popular blogger, Ory Okolloh, asked her viewers to send in emails describing events that were not being reported.  Information began flowing into her site faster than she could manage.  Okolloh sought the help of two software developers to build a program that could place the reports on Google Maps.  The basic system has since transformed into comprehensive participatory platform that is used to track crises throughout the world.

As Ushahidi has become more widely used, the program has encountered a challenge of dealing with the plethora of information users submit. As this diagram shows below, the crowd-sourced information was easier for people to report than the system to manage. How could they decide what data was important and ensure that they did not waste any imperative crisis information?

The developers addressed this issue by incorporating the SwiftRiver platform to help make sense of the excessive information.  The platform allows Ushahidi to analyze information, indentify trends, and rate data to filter and refine the information they receive.  This addition to Ushahidi is able to better verify reports and produce more accurate crisis locations.  To read more about Ushahidi and it’s development check out this case study

OLPC: Rwanda

After the devastating Rwandan genocide in 1994, the country has made a strong commitment to rebuilding and transforming the highly agrarian economy into a knowledge-based society.  The government has made huge investments in education and the IT sector to promote their developmental efforts.  Specifically, the One Laptop Per Child program has been one of their main initiatives.

In 2007, Rwanda became of first country in the East African Community to work with One Laptop Per Child. This Times article states that “no nation as poor as Rwanda has embraced OLCP founder Nicholas Negroponte’s idea so fully.”  After the pilot program, Rwanda aimed to provide 100,000 computers to impoverished children by 2010 and then a year later, hoped to distribute laptops to half of its 2.5 MILLION schoolchildren.  However, as those goals do not seem realistic, Rwanda adjusted their distribution plans.  Currently, Rwanda has only provided 117,000 laptops to children and plans to reach another 93,000 children by 2013.

Despite Rwanda’s strong partnership with OLCP, the project’s high cost and the country’s inadequate infrastructure pose major challenges for the efforts to be successful.  Each laptop costs $181, which is more than half the average Rwandan’s yearly income.  In addition, the countries current annual budget is only 1.2 billion.  It does not seem feasible for Rwanda to spend the money required to provide a substantial percentage of schoolchildren with laptops. In terms of infrastructural challenges, only 7% of the Rwandan population has electricity. The Rwandan government believes laptops will be “the engine for the spread of electricity and Internet across the country” and plans to provide servers to schools when the laptops are distributed. Currently, 50 servers have been provided to schools with laptops. However, with the initiatives huge growth prospects, it also does not seem reasonable for the government to supply the necessary power to support each project.  This does not even consider the lack of knowledge, inability to update software and technical problems that may occur after the laptops are delivered.

Another interesting aspect of the OLCP project is the Rwandan Ministry of Education has maintained a strong presence on social media to raise awareness about their efforts. I was able to find the project on Facebook, Twitter and WordPress. The OLPC coordinators in the Rwandan Ministry of Education actively post on each of these platforms, although the Facebook group has an unimpressive 171 likes.