Tag Archives: STEM

Improving Existing ICT initiatives- A cowpath worth following

This past week in class we discussed a number of issues related to the way ICT initiatives are designed, implemented, and run. One of these issues, brought up by Surmaya Talyarkhan’s paper, Connecting the First Mile discusses the idea of the design-reality gap, in which ICT projects are developed, anecdotally of course, by a group of people outside the socio-economic sphere of those for whom the project will be implemented, in a way that is much more, “we made this for you”, rather than, “we made this with you”.  An anecdote to this problem, which we have seen in floundering NGO projects across the globe, is to better pre-existing initiatives, another theme we discussed in class. But does this really work?  I vote yes, and I have a few reasons why:

  • Taking grassroots initiatives designed by and for a community and adding in ICTs that they didn’t have before would drastically improve the agency and capacity of the initiative.
  • ICTs would make these organizations and initiatives much more efficient, while being able to “hit the ground running” so to speak because the initiative would have already established rapport with the community in question.

In my participation as a delegate for the Model Organization of American States I’ve been working with my co-delegate on a policy resolution meant to take Talyarkhan’s words and apply them to a real life situation. I thought this would be an excellent forum to discuss our resolution and its relation to ICT4D and let commenters say what they think- after all, our resolution has to be absolutely air tight before we depart for the conference in Washington in March.

In a nutshell, our resolution adds onto the pre-existing government conditional cash transfer program called Bolsa Familia in Brazil. Qualifying low income families receive monthly cash transfers as well as additional supplies in exchange for regularly sending their children to school and getting regular health checkups. This is an effort to keep kids in school, as well as bring children and families out of poverty through education.  Our resolution will bring basic ICTs into the program, as well as enrich desire to learn about ICTs, engineering, science, and mathematics among children.  Our project piggybacks off of the Goldibloxs idea, which is designed to help get little girls interested in STEM academics. Instead, this version of the project (to be titled Building Boxes) will send a small box to each girl in the program (roughly ages 9-14) every six months that they successfully maintain the required attendance. Each box will have a different STEM related theme, and comes with an engaging book and activity catered to the child’s age. These range from a plant-your-own garden and picture book for the youngest age group to a build-your-own-basic-cell-phone and novel for an older age group.  The hope is that through these activities, young girls will acquire interest in these areas and a desire to pursue higher education in these fields.

Anyway, please comment and let me know what you think, or if you have any questions/loopholes.  The MOAS program is theoretical, of course, but I think we need to start seeing more initiatives like this one, which take pre-existing programs and beef them up using ICTs to improve quality, function, and efficiency.


Integrating African Women into Tech Careers

This week in class, we learned about the relationship between gender and ICT4D. We read a report highlighting the restricted access many women face all across Africa in terms of ICTs. While we mainly discussed their restrictions in ICT consumption, it seems evident that even greater disparities exist in terms of ICT production.

While searching the Web, I ran into this online platform called Women who Mentor and Innovate in Africa (WMIAfrica). WMIAfrica is working on combating the lack of access to information, role models and skills facing young women interested in pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) studies and careers. It hopes to provide a platform for virtual & physical  mentoring for girls and young women interested in STEM by professional Women Mentors working in STEM fields. On the website (www.wmiafrica.org), it claims to be doing so by:

WMIAfrica Online platform will :

  • Recruit and Register members. Professional women, girls and young women interested in STEM
  • Encourage mentoring through the sharing of stories, innovative projects and successes by Mentors to motivate , inspire and challenge the Mentees.
  • Showcase Africa’s women innovators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)
  • Provide resources such as , useful materials/templates for women having innovative projects to use in their startups or individual projects, opportunities, jobs and scholarship announcements in the science related sectors for women to apply and relevant event information.

This seems to aim to help ambitious girls with entrepreneurial ideas, so-called innovators.  Should this platform be expanded to cater to more women with different interests?

My other concern is that this only has the means of helping those who already have access to these ICT devices and internet, and who are situated in relatively wealthy urban areas with access to these types of institutions and events. How are other women, let’s say in rural settings or abject poverty, supposed to access an online platform?

There also seems to be a movement here in the United States to introduce more women into the rapidly expanding and highly demanded field of programming. Many non-profits in the United States are emerging to shrink the programming divide among genders, including BlackGirlsCode (www.blackgirlscode.com), WebStartWomen (http://webstartwomen.com/) and many others. There are more and more emerging free online coding courses available for anyone with access to internet without the constraining costs of higher institutions. Are these free online coding classes also a viable solution for integrating women into ICT production in the developing world (in this case Africa) or are restricted to the same limited population of women as mentioned above?


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).