This semester’s course on information communication technology for development has been an important tool to understand how ICTs can help or hurt a nation’s progress towards achieving development goals.
a) The most salient lesson that can be learned in ICT4D would be to understand the limitations to the one-size-fits all approach in implementing ICTs in a nation. This is a concept that must always be thought about with the introduction of any ICT into a new country and is extremely important to the success or failure of an ICT. Since the majority of ICTs are first invented in developed countries, they often work to aid development in this nation. Success in one nation does not indicate success in another nation. This means that the culture and environment of one place must be fully understand before any ICTs are introduced into the market.
b) Something that I have learned that may help me as a development professional one day is the importance of good data collection. As a development professional it is imperative that the right data is collected and understood for any development goals to be accurately met. Each nation’s development is specific to the personal needs of that nation and it is extremely important that before any ICT or development measures are taken, the correct information and data is collected before and after the fact so that success can be measured accurately. This also goes in part with the one-size-fits-all approach so that a nation’s specific needs are addressed. As a development professional, I think that much of the work I could contribute would be more analytical, so accurate data collection is important for my progress in the field.
c) As stated in both a) and b), the most useful theoretical concept that has been discussed regarding implementing ICT4D would be the one-size-fits all approach. This is a concept that must always be understood when any ICTs topic is discussed because specific development needs will never be fully achieved with a unilateral approach to implementation. Many perspectives and views must be understood so that progress can actually be made.
After a semester of studying various ICT4D initiatives, including specific case studies and theory, it is clear that a multi-stakeholder approach must become the basis for any successful undertaking. One of the conclusions drawn from the World Summit on the Information Society that met in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005 is that an information society cannot be built without collaboration, partnerships and solidarity among all stakeholders based on values of transparency, accountability and respect. My research on the ICT status of the Democratic Republic of Congo supports this supposition. The DRC does not have an established national ICT policy even though the private sector has been working on programs that would make up the components of such a policy. The public sector (the government) has failed to support these programs (financially or otherwise) arguably because of a lack of understanding of the importance of ICTs for economic and social development. They are skeptical that investing in technology will reap any benefits. I have learned that this government opposition is a widespread issue from reading blog posts on other countries. First and foremost, all the stakeholders in an ICT implementation must be well understood. The private and public sectors, non profit organizations and the targeted population need to not only tolerate each other’s practices but also be supportive of them. Creating an atmosphere in which these programs can sustainably thrive is essential. Sustainability is inherent to successful development initiatives and this is especially true with ICTs since technology is constantly evolving. The government needs to go online and thereby become more transparent to its citizens to instate the trust and respect critical to a symbiotic partnership. The targeted population needs to be well-trained in the new technology, preferably by a fellow citizen and not a foreign development worker. On that note, effective methods for training targeted populations should be an additional topic for exploration. I would be interested to find out if there is a program or organization that recruits a few willing citizens of a particular developing nation, trains them to a professional level on a particular piece of technology, and then sends them back with the equipment to train the rest of the community.
Started in 2010 by the International Technological Union (ITU), the International Girls in ICTs Day is centered around the idea of celebrating and promoting female involvement in the international technology sector. While ITU itself does not put on any events for the day, it encourages all ICT related organizations and stakeholders to be involved, stating on their website, “these are events where girls and university students are invited to spend the day at the office of ICT companies and government agencies so they better understand the opportunities the ICT sector holds for their future.” The website also provides various resources and promotional materials for general International Girls in ICTs Day events and profiles of female role models in the technology industry from around the world. Additionally, they provide archives of current and past events for the day to encourage groups around the world to become involved in the cause.
One event put on last year in Swaziland brought two communications companies in the nation together with 160 high school girls from around Swaziland in the first annual Girls in ICT Communications Installations Tour. The groups visited national and regional communications stations and viewed presentations from sector female and male professionals among other things.
While the gender gap in the ICT sector around the world is far from solved, events and celebratory days like this are crucial to encouraging and promoting the involvement of women and girls in ICTs. The growth of events like these and the idea that girls and women can and should have equal roles as men in the technology industries play a large role in the path towards gender equality, access, and education.
In class today, we had a presentation on gender inequality by Keshet Bachan, a gender equality expert from Israel. Among her talking points, Bachan noted that there are many forms of violence against adolescent woman, including trafficking and prostitution, and that many women who come from poor backgrounds are vulnerable to this sort of violence.
In my country papers for this class, I researched the Francophone West African state of Côte d’Ivoire. Through this research and my interest in this nation, I have learned that it lags behind many of its neighbors in the different ICT sectors and that there is much gender inequality in the state. The government does not invest much money, if any at all, in women’s education or fertility. And along those lines and echoing Bachan’s presentation, female mutilation/cutting is a common practice. UNICEF defines female mutilation as “the partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for cultural or other non-therapeutic reasons.” This is particularly a problem in Cote d’Ivoire where a national law was adopted in 1998 to criminalize the activity. It is a problem among people who do not have access to education, the Muslim population and the Voltaïques and Northern Monde ethnic groups, where over 70% of the women are mutilated. Genital mutilation is not only a problem for the obvious reasons of discriminating against and suppressing women, but it also leads to child mortality and makes it easier for adolescent women to contract HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Genital mutilation in Côte d’Ivoire is a form of social integration and sometimes a required religious ritual of purification. Seeing that female mutilation was in direct conflict with four of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDG 3: promoting gender equality & empowering women, MDG 4: reducing child mortality, MDG 5: improving maternal health, MDG 6: combatting HIV-AIDS, malaria and other diseases) UNICEF has begun to take action to safeguard human rights in the country. Through advocacy for women’s rights, gender equality and access to education, UNICEF has been able to raise awareness about the issue and help curtail genital mutilation. They have also used nationwide technology campaigns on radio television and mobile phones to establish child protection networks and to empower adolescent and adult women. Between 2000 and 2006, national genital mutilation dropped in females from 44% to 36.4% in direct response to these radio and television campaigns. While we in the United States may scoff at the power that radio has to bring people together and raise awareness about issues, because we are so engulfed with social media and smartphones, radio is showing in Côte d’Ivoire that it is a reliable strategy to achieving gender equality in developing countries.
In class today we discussed the various ICT applications in all sectors worldwide such as Health, Energy and Environment, Disaster and Humanitarian Aid, Agriculture and Business. It is definitely clear from the presentations that a common challenge each sector faces when implementing ICT’s is proper education and training programs for management and regulation. Education must come from both sides from the outside in, and the inside out. People who are coming into a country must understand that the “One Size Fits All” method has a high failure rate and overall does not work due to the uniqueness of each developing country. On the other hand, the people within these countries must be properly educated about the changes and new systems created for their benefits. Without proper education about new types of technology (computers, e-Health), new systems (Green spaces, GIS, early warning systems), the sustainability of the projects are at a high risk. Specifically in health education, as discussed by fellow classmates, is one of the more important topics because of the high birth rates that are overcrowding communities and making poverty and hunger more prevalent. By simply spreading necessary health information about pregnancy and up to date information about maternal care, this can be alleviated with just the spread of vital information and filling education gaps in this sector.
In addition, training programs in these sectors help ensure initial successes and positive outcomes (both short term and long term), ensure sustainability for the future and even create jobs for technicians or experts in for a given sector. This would also help create a bottom-up approach to implementation strategies. For the Humanitarian aid especially this is vital because it comes at a high (yet necessary) cost, so efficiency is necessary.
Though money will always be an issue for many of the implementations of new programs or systems for development through ICT, without training and education the sustainability of each and every one is at a high risk. Unless long-term protocols are set in place, the successes of the short term are qualitatively less valuable.
This week in class we studied the One Laptop Per Child organization and had a lengthy discussion about its obvious flaws. As IDEV students, we often find ourselves criticizing the various projects and organizations we study; its rare, however, that we see the beneficiaries of these projects condemning them as well. This article from the Associated Press in July 2013 discussed why a group of Kenyan parens voiced their opposition to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s $615 million plan to give laptops to 1.2 million school children. Parents felt that the money for the computers should be put towards raising teachers’ salaries and feeding impoverished students.
As one member of the Kenya National Association of Parents explained, “the program is bound to fail in a country that lacks enough teachers and where others strike regularly for better pay”. In 2013, Kenya faced a shortfall of 40,000 teachers. Additionally, more than 200,000 teachers in public schools across the country went on strike to protest unpaid allowances that the government had promised 16 years earlier. These parents felt that current teachers did not have the capacity to implement laptops into the classroom due to lack of training and a government-developed curriculum for the project. Additionally, a previous incident where 70 million textbooks in a public primary-school went missing added to worries that many laptops would be lost, stolen, or sold for food money.
One government spokesman defended the laptop project, saying it was crucial to Kenya’s goal of training a digital-savvy workforce. The Consumer Federation of Kenya, on the other hand, said the project had noble intentions but was “not well thought out and was politicized beyond redemption.” Many parents also felt there were better alternatives to how the government’s money should be spent when it comes to public education. In order to meet the population’s education demands, Kenya needs 42,000 classrooms. The money used for the laptops could be put towards building more schools to expand the country’s education system. Alternatively, some of the money would be better used to fund more children in the nation-wide school food program, meant to help poor children to stay in school, improve their health, and encourage nutrition.
In 2010 the president of Argentina, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced that she was going to implement a program so that every high school student in Argentina would be given a small laptop. César Dergarabedian in this article further explains the plans for this program and also compares this program to the OLPC program that had previously been implemented in Uruguay. After seeing the results of the OLPC program in Uruguay, the president of Argentina decide to implement a similar program, but with a few changes. One of the major changes was that rather than using the OLPC laptops to give to all of the students, a similar, small durable computer was manufactured in Argentina. On the computers would also come all of the necessary programs that a student may need while using the laptop in the classroom. Along with the program, Fernández de Kirchner said that the internet capabilities of high school buildings would be increased. The program was very ambitious, hoping to have 3 million students in over 4,800 public schools receive these computers within the following 3 years.
Although the program may have been ambitious, there are many distinctions between this program and the OLPC program that make a considerable difference, and make it more plausible for the success of the program in a country. Primarily, the fact that Argentina was manufacturing the computers itself made it so that the program was not only increasing the computer use in the country, but also the money that was being spent on the laptops (nearly 1,052 million dollars) was being put back into the Argentine economy. The other part of the program that put it on track to be more successful is that since the government decided to implement this program in public schools they were also able to help provide the schools with the infrastructure needed so that the students can utilize this technology.
By no means was this program flawless, but it does give a different approach to look at when discussing the OLPC program. It also can be a case study to be compared to the OLPC program, and used for other countries looking to implement a similar program as a model.
On Tuesday, computer giant IBM announced a 10-year plan to improve cognitive computing throughout Africa. The program will work to develop data for different sectors of the African economy and will work to connect more Africans to the digital ‘cloud,’ where they will be able to assess information on health and education. According to Dr. Robber Morris, the Vice-President of the Global Labs department of IBM Research, the program will allow Africans to use their mobile phones to “ask relevant questions on health and other areas of interest to human endeavor and receive instant answers through their phone.”
This new IBM program represents an important and interesting investment by IBM into the African ICT community. As mobile phone usage continues to sky-rocket throughout the continent, the opportunity to utilize such technology for a variety of means continues. While the IBM program has not fully begun, and little information exists on the particulars of the program, it makes theoretical sense to try and take advantage of mobile phone usage and make it easier for individuals to access important information about health and education.
While the program is obviously in the early stages, I think it is very important that IBM both ensures local buy-in of their program and ensures that the information is available in a variety of languages. The program announcement does not mention working with local communities to spread information about the program, and the seemingly top-down approach that the program takes is troubling. Additionally, ensuring that the information is available in a variety of languages will ensure that it is as easy as possible for individuals to access the information.
Overall, the program is an ambitious attempt to try and improve the access of vital heath and education information to more individuals. It will be fascinating to see how the program is implemented over the coming decade.
In 2009 when I was in Kibale, Uganda, I saw the first 100 laptops being distributed to the Kasiisi School as part of the Kasiisi Project. After our class discussion, I wanted to learn more about how OLPC worked out in Kasiisi. This video gives a brief overview of OLPC in the context of the Kasiisi Project:
There were a few key differences between the way OLPC was implemented in Peru and the way it was implemented in Kasiisi that I was excited about. To start, the very first thing the video says is that it is about giving a kid a laptop and teaching them how to use it. Originally, OLPC seemed to think that for the most part, if you give a kid a laptop they should be able to teach themselves how to use it. As many of the children receiving these laptops have never had any sort of experience with this kind of technology, this is a pretty unreasonable assumption. I’m glad that Kasiisi valued teaching the kids how to use the laptops, ignoring the assumptions of OLPC. Second, they included teacher training as a part of implementing OLPC in the Kasiisi Schools. This gets teachers involved in the process of implementation, another major issue with OLPC. If teachers are involved, the computers can actually be used in the classrooms for educational purposes. If teachers don’t even know how to use the computers, there is no way to incorporate them into the classroom and it is unlikely that they can serve any significant educational purpose. Finally, the students were so excited about using the laptops that the program actually improved school attendance because students had to go to school to use them.
At the same time, the video points out a few of the issues that were also seen in other places that OLPC has been implemented. These first 100 laptops would follow the P5 class, but the incoming class would probably not be able to receive laptops. The first laptops were part of a very generous donation, but clearly this donation could only benefit a select group of students. Another issue that I witnessed that wasn’t mentioned in the video was the worry that if the children brought home the laptops, they would be stolen or sold. Also, at the time that this project was implemented, the school did not have main electricity. The computers had to be powered through a generator, which was incredibly slow and meant that their use was very limited. While Kasiisi had more success than Peru, it is clear that some major issues still need to be addressed before the project can be successful.