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Screen Shot 2013-07-14 at 2.40.51 PMLast week, 600 exceptional youth activists from 80 countries arrived to New York City for a UN Takeover, where they called for urgent action by member states to meet Millennium Development Goal 2 on education by 2015. The youth’s inputs will feed into setting the agenda for global education priorities post-2015. One of the highlights of the week was this inspiring talk by Malala Yousafzai, who made her first public address to the UN on June 12th, her 16th birthday.

Seven of the youth participating in the UN Takeover with the support of Plan joined us as lead discussants for our July 10th Technology Salon. Agung, Dina, and Nurul from Indonesia; Kamanda and Fatmata from Sierra Leone; Tova from Sweden; and Frank from Uganda told us about ICT access and use in their communities and countries. We also heard about their work as youth activists on issues of child marriage, school violence, good governance, and education, and whether ICTs are effective outreach tools for campaigning in their contexts.

The realities of access

In both Sierra Leone and Uganda Internet access is quite difficult. Traveling to Internet cafés in urban areas is too expensive for rural youth to do regularly, and it is unsafe for young women to travel in the evenings. There is not enough equipment in schools and universities, and youth have trouble affording and finding regular access. The majority of primary and secondary schools do not have ICTs, and non-governmental organizations are unable to reach everyone with their programs to supply equipment and training. Although there are often funds given to governments to build computer labs, these tend to benefit urban areas. In some cases projects and funds are used for political gain and personal favors. Even at university level, student access might be limited to 1-2 hours per week at a computer lab, meaning they end up doing almost everything on paper.

Lack of ICT access impacts on job prospects for youth, because jobs exist but employers are seeking people who know how to operate a computer. Many of these job applications have to be submitted online. This puts jobs out of reach of youth in rural areas. Basic infrastructure remains a problem in rural areas. Although telecommunication lines have been laid, electricity for charging mobile phones is still a problem and often electricity is dependent on a solar panel or a generator, making it difficult to run a computer lab or Telecenter.

ICTs are heightening the development divide, noted one Salon participant. In schools near urban areas, parents pay more in tuition and school fees and their children have better ICT access than rural children. This creates inequality. “Students going to these schools have access and they will even study computer science. But when you go to a rural village you might only see one small room where children can access a computer, if anything at all. Teachers themselves don’t know how to use computers.” In cities, parents know ICTs are important. In the rural villages, however, many people are skeptical of technologies. This inequality of access and education means that youth in rural areas and the poor are not able to meet requirements for jobs that use ICTs.

One discussant noted, “It is possible to access Internet through mobile phones. You can use some phones to access Internet, Facebook, etc. In the villages, however, you find that you can only receive calls and make calls. There is no Internet. When I went to Nairobi and saw everyone with smart phones, I wondered, ‘What is wrong with Uganda?’ We don’t have many smart phones.” Another discussant commented that her university has a wide area network, but it is only available to lecturers, not to students.

Most of the youth discussants considered that, among their peer groups, more girls than boys had mobile phones, and more girls were active on the Internet and Facebook.

Access brings concerns

In Indonesia, it was noted, Internet is very available, except for the more remote islands. In Java, commented one discussant, “every young person has a smart phone. They use Facebook and Twitter and can get all kinds of information, and those without smart phones can use Internet cafés.” Internet access, however, is creating new problems. “Parents are proud that their kids are going to the Internet shop to get information, but they also worry about increased access to pornography.” Internet is believed to contribute to an increase in child marriages. The youth discussants said they would like more guidance on how to filter information, know what is true and what is not, use Internet safely, and avoid exposure to offensive content. One discussant from Indonesia mentioned that parents in her community worried that if girls went to Internet cafes or browsed online, they would be exposed to inappropriate materials or prostitution through Facebook.

In Sweden, access to Internet and smart phones is universal. However, parents may buy children a smart phone even if they cannot really afford it. Although many children learn English early because they can easily access Internet, many also do not learn how to write properly because they only use computers.

When phones are available but there is no capacity to purchase them, additional problems also arise. According to one discussant, “Some girls want to have big things before their time.” This can lead to young women offering sex to older men in return for money, fancy phones and airtime.

ICTs in formal education

Youth discussants all said that they are increasingly expected to have access to the Internet and computers in order to complete their school assignments, and they felt this was not a realistic expectation. In one of the youth’s schools in Indonesia, computer class is offered for 4 hours per week and a computer lab is available with 30 desktop computers. In another school in Jakarta, however, every child is expected to have their own laptop. “Our problem is different than in the remote areas. Every teacher in Jakarta thinks that a smart phone or computer is ‘the world in our hands.’ They think we don’t need education about the computer itself. They think we can learn from the Internet how to use computers, and so we have to search and learn this all by ourselves with little guidance.” In Sweden, “if you don’t have Internet access, it will be very difficult to pass a course.”

Effective ways to reach and engage youth in campaigns

Discussants were asked about the communication channels that are most effective for campaigning or engaging youth and communities. In rural Sierra Leone and Uganda, face-to-face was considered the most effective outreach channel for reaching youth and communities, given low levels of access to computers, radios and mobile phones. “Most times our campaigns are face-to-face. We move to communities, we use local language to be sure everyone gets the message,” said one youth discussant. In Jakarta, however, “it’s easy to use online means, it never sleeps. Young people in Jakarta are too lazy to attend workshops. They don’t like to listen to speakers. So we share by social media, like Facebook and Twitter.”

Digital media is only useful in urban areas, said one youth discussant from Sierra Leone. “We mostly use radio to do advocacy and sensitization campaigns. We also do it face-to-face. For secondary schools, we do talks. We tell them about documents signed by government or NGOs, what is in place, what is not in place. We give advice. We talk straight about health, about sex education. You just wait for the light in their eyeball to see if they are understanding. We also do dramas, and we paste up wall bills. We do all of this in our local languages.” Youth groups and youth networks are also useful channels for passing along messages and building support.

Radio is effective in theory, but one discussant noted that in his district, there are only two radio stations. “You take your information or announcement there, and they say they will pass it, but you stay waiting… it’s a challenge.”

Campaigns must also involve engaging local decision makers, a participant noted. Often chiefs do not understand, and they may be the very ones who violate the rights of girls. Youth noted the need to be diplomatic however, or they risk being seen as impolite or trouble-makers. “You have to really risk yourself to do rights work in the community,” noted one discussant. Another commented that having support and buy-in from local leaders is critical in order to be taken seriously. “You need a ‘big voice’ to back you and to convince people to listen to you.”

INGO staff can help legitimize youth work in some cases, but there are also issues. “Local leaders always ask for money,” noted one discussant. “When they hear Plan, UNICEF, Care, Save the Children, they think these organizations gave us money and we’ve taken it for ourselves.” Youth often resort to using external INGO staff as their legitimizing force because “we don’t have other role models, everybody wants money. The politicians say they will help us but then they are always too busy. We have to take the lead ourselves.”

Conflicting information and messages can also be a problem, commented a Salon participant. “One year, it’s the ABC Campaign for HIV prevention, the next it’s condoms, and then it’s prevention. Sometimes youth don’t know who to believe. The NGO says something, the government says something, and local leaders say something else. We need consistency.” In addition, he noted, “INGOs come in with their big range rovers, so of course local leaders and communities think that there is money involved. INGOs need to think more carefully and avoid these conflicting messages.”

What would youth like to see?

Going forward, the youth would like more access, more ICT education, more transparency and accountability in terms of how governments spend funds directed to ICT programs, and more guidance on filtering information and ensuring it’s veracity so that children will not be taken advantage of.

*****

Thanks to the Population Council for hosting us for the Salon! Join us for our next Salon on July 25th: How can we scale Mobiles for Development initiatives? 

The Technology Salon methodology was used for the session, including Chatham House Rule, therefore no attribution has been made in this summary post. Sign up here to receive notifications about upcoming Salons in New York, Nairobi, San Francisco, London and Washington, DC. 

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Learning to use a computer in Inhambane, Mozambique

Learning to use a computer in Inhambane, Mozambique

This is a slightly longer version of my Empowering Girls through Information, Communication and Technology, published in The Guardian’s Development Professional’s Network. A full article called “Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?” was published in Redress, the Journal of the Association of Women Educators (Vol 21, No. 2, August 2012, pp 23-29.)

“Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you will be holding a baby’s napkin?”

This is the type of taunt a girl might hear when trying to sit in front of one of the computers at the school’s lab, said Fabiola, a young woman from Cameroon while speaking on a panel about girls, education, and new technologies at the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).

Fabiola was invited to the CSW to speak about her personal experiences as a girl studying a career in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Fabiola went on to share how her parents had been instrumental in encouraging her to pursue her studies, even though she was one of few girls who decided to go down the STEM path.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be quite aware that there has been an increasing emphasis in the development sector on girls and ICTs over the past few years. Everyone from large government donors to NGOs to the private sector is banking on girls and technologies, especially mobile phones, to play a big role in helping resolve poverty and make development gains.

Girls themselves consider ICTs to be a major element in their personal growth and development, useful for improving studies, staying informed and earning a living. Girls say that ICTs help them reduce their sense of isolation, acquire new skills, actively participate in national and global dialogues, learn about taboo subjects (such as reproductive health and HIV), feel safer and more in touch with family and friends, and strengthen self-esteem. They often credit participatory media and technology programs with helping them improve their ability to express themselves, speak in public, and to dialogue with adults and other decision makers to negotiate their needs and rights.

But what about access?

The flip side is that for many girls, access to and use of ICTs is a huge challenge. Gender discrimination, lack of confidence, not speaking a major language, low literacy, lack of time and money, and restricted mobility (due to cultural factors or safety) often prevent girls from taking advantage of the benefits of ICTs.

Despite the positive trend in mobile phone and Internet access worldwide, access is often characterized in terms of broad economics, eg., ‘developing’ vs ‘developed’ countries, or it is analyzed at the country level: eg., Kenya vs Mozambique. Analysis needs to go much deeper, however, to include individual factors like class and wealth status, gender, geographic location, age, disability, literacy, language, and device ownership.

Girls living in the same geographic area may have very different levels of access. An English-speaking Kenyan girl living in an urban high rise with her upper class parents will have more access to ICTs than a non-English speaking Kenyan girl with low literacy levels who works long hours cleaning that same apartment and lives in a slum area nearby. The mobile phone ownership capacity of the daughter of a relatively wealthy community leader who owns a small local business will be greater than that of the daughter of one of the poorest families in the same village.

Gender discrimination also comes into play, and in places where men and boys dominate women and girls, they also tend to dominate the available ICTs.  In places where boys are more favored, their confidence to try new things will tend to be higher. Girls often report that boys hog and monopolize ICT equipment and that they criticize, scorn and ridicule girls who are using equipment for the first time, making girls feel too timid to try again.

How can development agencies help girls overcome these barriers?

1)   Keep working to address underlying causes

If girls and women continue to live in greater poverty, with lower education levels, less access to healthcare and other services, less opportunity to work, and lower status in their societies, chances are that their access to and use of ICTs will not level out to that of boys and men.

Getting more girls into school and improving the quality of education could help more girls access and learn to use ICTs. Finding ways to encourage critical thinking and innovation within the education system and ways for girls to join in extra-curricular activities to stimulate new ways of thinking might also help more girls to build the skills and mindsets necessary to enter into the growing number of jobs in the ICT sector.

Advocating for and supporting policies that make Internet more accessible and affordable overall is another area where INGOs can play a role. Libraries and other safe spaces can also help girls and women feel more comfortable and able to access information and learn how to use ICTs.

2) Help change mentalities

A shift in thinking is needed in order to stimulate behavior change that is more conducive to girls participating fully in their family and communities as well as at broader levels. Girls need to be seen as people who can and should take advantage of the potential of ICTs, but they cannot create this shift in thinking on their own. Broad and deep legal, attitudinal and behavior changes need to happen in families, communities, institutions and society in general.

Organizations should engage men and boys as allies in this process. When fathers and male peers are aware, engaged and supportive of girls’ development and girls’ rights, they play a very strong role in changing broader norms and perceptions.

Female role models can also help change mentalities. Having a device or new technology in their possession can increase the status and strength of girls and women as role models and enable them to carry out different and important roles in the community.

3) Offer opportunities

In the short-term, offering specific and accompanied support and opportunities for girls to access and take advantage of ICTs can help fill some of the gaps mentioned above. ICTs can be incredible tools for engaging students in the classroom, making teaching methodologies more participatory, encouraging student-led research and building critical media and digital literacy skills in the process. In places where textbooks are old and outdated, the Internet can offer ways to connect with current events and up-to-date research.

Adding gadgets to the classroom experience involves more than just having the latest digital devices; however, and careful thought needs to be given to the teaching goals, desired outcomes, and issues like relevance and sustainability before deciding on tools and devices.

Special care needs to be taken to ensure that in these controlled spaces, girls have equal access to equipment. Where ICTs cannot be integrated into the classroom or where girls are not in school, non-formal education and extra-curricular activities can give girls a chance to interact with ICTs.

ICTs do hold much promise, yet access for girls remains a challenge. The NGO sector can play a role by addressing underlying causes of gender discrimination and gendered poverty, helping change mentalities, and supporting greater opportunities for girls. For more on ways that INGOs and educators can support girls access and effective use of ICTs, see “Why should you be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day you’ll be holding a baby’s napkin?”

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Starting next week, I’ll be participating in TechChange‘s course on Global Innovations for Digital Organizing: Open Data, Good Governance and Online/Offline Advocacy. I’m excited about it because the topics are among the things I’m most interested in, and I think they deserve a closer and more focused look.

I wrote a post back in November 2010 asking “where’s the ICT4D distance learning.” This led me to discover TechChange, and in January 2011 we co-hosted an “ICT4D Distance Learning Tweet Chat.” Since then I’ve been collaborating with the team to input into course ideas. I also participated as a moderator in the Mobiles in International Development course last year.

So after a year of running courses, what has TechChange learned? Nick Martin, TechChange founder, says that online learning needs to be social in order for it to be effective. “Most organizations think of ‘online learning’ as uploading powerpoints or manuals onto their website or hosting monthly webinars for their employees, but it can and should be so much more than this. By emphasizing social elements such as video chats, collaborative simulations, small group discussions and through the use of video game mechanics (point systems, progress bars, and good graphics) we keep participants engaged and connected with one another, not just the content.”

Working across time zones can be a challenge, as I also discovered when moderating the Mobiles in Development course. Scheduling in side chats was difficult, but that’s not something that’s easy to fix. TechChange tries to address this by “combining synchronous and asynchronous learning in the same platform and keeping the balance between a persistent learning network where people can socialize (via video, audio, and text) with each other and experts, and allowing people to get caught up on weekends when they fall behind so that they don’t feel left out,” according to Nick.

One thing the group learned about running this kind of course is that when engaging external experts in webinars and chats, informal-yet-direct interaction is much better than more produced content.

“We tried doing formal studio-style interviews with our experts, but found that most students just tuned out like they were watching a TV show. When the experts were just talking directly to the camera from their laptops, we found students asked more questions and participated more. They really appreciated the access to experts and weren’t particular about the production value of the webcast. Sometimes less is more,” Nick says.

Personal attention can still be a challenge, however. So TechChange emphasizes the role and importance of moderators. Their last Mobiles for International Development course had 70 students from 30 countries (see map below), making moderators a key part of personalization.

TechChange recently ran an online course for Pakistani students in partnership with IREX, where Nick says the challenge was keeping up with the students. “They brought creative ideas from their cultural exchange program with Global UGRAD-Pakistan, so we were always trying to tailor lessons around ways to improve or discuss their experiences. IREX was very focused on using our platform to create a tailored four-week program for the students, so we were able to tweak it as we went along.” (Read more here: TechChange Lessons from Training Pakistani Students Online)

The class with the Pakistani group was based on the Global Innovations for Digital Organizing course. TechChange had information ahead of time on the participant profile (the students were from Pakistan, undergraduate education, good English, decent connectivity), so they were able to maximize the experience by bringing in local partners like Pakistan Youth Alliance and Khudi and targeting youth leaders that they thought would resonate (like Prashan De Visser of Sri Lanka Unites). However, doing a class in Pakistan presented some difficulties, such as rolling power outages and load shedding. “We had to really make sure everything was optimized for low bandwidth and archiving.”

What does the future hold for TechChange? According to Nick, the group is pushing ahead on two fronts:

  1. Working with technology firms to create courses that can help them better engage their user communities
  2. Helping international development organizations integrate online learning into their local capacity building projects.

The open enrollment courses will remain, but the team will be focusing more on partnering with tech/development firms to help them build out their engaged communities. “There’s already a ton of cool tools out there that we love to teach, like Ushahidi and OpenStreetMap, but the biggest challenge isn’t tech–it’s educating and engaging communities of practice. We’re really excited about our upcoming Ushahidi course, which we developed in partnership with Ushahidi (developer Rob Baker will be the lead facilitator), but we see it as the first of many. Developers have great manuals, products, and organizations, but we can often add value by helping them educate their existing audiences and reach out to new ones.”

TechChange plans to work in the area of technical capacity building by developing more custom courses for organizations. “We see our role as changing from being the central learning location for individual students to helping development/nonprofit organizations reach out to their key stakeholders. This fulfills a key part of our mandate. It lets us provide tailor-made courses for organizations in fragile states and countries in transition.” TechChange is also looking to integrate their platform into other online learning opportunities, such as accredited courses and online conference opportunities.

It’s inspiring for me to see how quickly TechChange has built their online learning platform and how adaptable they are to the topics and themes that different people and organizations need to get a handle on in the area of ICTs and development and related humanitarian fields. I’m looking forward to participating (and speaking as a guest) in the Digital Organizing course starting on Monday!

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I went to a great meeting hosted by NetHope and Plan International in Cairo, Egypt during the last week of February. The idea was to get several of the NetHope partners together — both IT companies and INGOs — to discuss ways of working together in the area of ICTs and Education.

I took advantage of the meeting to make some more “Reality Videos”, similar to the mHealth Reality Videos that James Bon Tempo and I did during the mHealth Summit.

1) My Finnish colleague Mika Valitalo asks ‘Really, what’s all the fuss? We just got some equipment and dropped it off in the community and it all worked fine….’

2) Nzila shares what was learned at the workshop and focuses on Grapho Game, a tool to improve literacy in local language.

3) Marcha Neeling says throwing devices at people will not solve any development issues.

4) Mohamed Hussein talks about how ICT4D needs to be led by programs and supported by ICT staff, not the other way around.

5) Maria Berenguer notes that teachers need computer training first if they are to use computers with their students.

6) Chris Bane reminds us that we don’t always need super sophisticated tools. Sometimes very simple ICTs can make all the difference.

7) Edison Nsubega explains that it’s important to base your selection of ICT tools and platforms on the local context and situation that you are trying to resolve.

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This is a guest post from Lil Shira, one of the girl delegates who attended the 55th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women in February, 2011. Lil Shira was part of a Plan led Girl Delegation which took part in high level panels, side events and caucuses. This post appears complete in its original format. You can read a post by Fabiola, another of the girl delegates from Cameroon, here.

Lil Shira in the community

My name is Lil Shira, a high school student and a Cameroonian.  I am the second child out of five children in my family, three girls and two boys, and we live in a rural area. Because I am a girl I was selected by my school authority to be part of the journalism club in the school. This paved my way into YETAM (Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media) project sponsored by Plan Finland since the Journalism club was chosen for this project.

Because I am a girl I had to use the skills I have acquired in YETAM on music, media and ICTs to indentify issues like the problem of early and forced marriage, high rate of school dropout and violence against the girl child. Because I am a girl, I had to mobilize other youth (girls and boys) victims, so as to speak out as a unique voice, to raise awareness to the general public using music, drawings, drama, poems, videos, computers and overhead projector as tools. This led to many local advocacy actions spearheaded by us.

I was also very happy to celebrate the 21st anniversary, in Yaoundé in Cameroon, of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child within the framework of YETAM project. These created a big impact in my life, the lives of my friends, youth, school, family and my country. All these activities took me to a higher level because I was again selected, this time to be one of the girl delegates to represent Cameroon in the 55th session of the UN Commission on the Status of women (CSW) in New York City.

Lil Shira presenting at the CSW.

I was very happy, excited together with my friends and family members and I was planning and preparing on the role I was going to play while in New York. My expectation was to work with other youth from different region and country but did not really expect I was going to talk to Ministers from all the members’ state of the UN. I did my first presentation with the Canadian Minister on a panel about the importance of commemoration days and the importance of setting up an International day for the girls.  Another thing which made me feel so opportune was the panel with UN women Ministers in the UN building.

I was very impressed seeing ministers from over two hundred countries and above listening to me and in effect giving a positive response to the issues I presented. In fact their reaction made me feel at home and so happy. I was equally happy to listen to other girls raise issues like gender based violence and discrimination in their various countries and what they have been doing to combat it.

Coming in contact with girls from Sierra Leone, Finland, United States, Indonesia, Canada and others, not mention to share our ideas, was so wonderful and exciting.  This was a forum for me to dialogue with them to know more about them and some of the issues affecting them in their own country which was contrasting with mine. Though I was nervous during my first presentation, meeting new faces it all passes away like a breeze and I did not have any complex because everything was cute.

Life in the US to me was very enjoyable and meaningful, but I could not stop complaining of the cold and snow. In addition, I tried eating food not familiar to that of my home country. All these contributed greatly to the wonderful experiences I had on the weather condition and the food.  I have learned to adapt to situations wherever I find myself. I hope to continue sharing this experience so that others may learn from it.

This is the time for girls to take up the challenge. I know my rights and have claim them, and no one can take them from me because I am a girl.

Thanks to Plan International, Judith Nkie our Chaperone, Kate Ezzes and Lia de Pauw.

Girls, claim your rights!

Related posts and videos about YETAM and the CSW:

Girls voices in global forums

Girls in rural Cameroon talk about ICTs

55th CSW: Women, girls, education and technology

A catalyst for positive change

On the map: Ndop, Okola and Pitoa


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The 55th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) happens in New York City Feb 21-25, 2011. For me, the most exciting thing about the event is that several girls from some of the countries where we are working (Canada, US, Finland, Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Indonesia) will be participating and speaking. This aspect of our work – helping to bring young people’s voices into these large influential forums – (when done properly) can be very effective at bringing a reality check to the ivory tower and helping influence decision makers at the very highest levels.

This year’s CSW is especially interesting to me since I work in the area of ICTs, and the theme of the CSW is:

“Access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work.”

The girls will be presenting at the Girls Take the Stage: Growing up in a Digital World on Feb 22nd:

I’ll be presenting with Fabiola from Cameroon at the Empowering Girls: Education and Technology” session on February 23.

I’ll also talk at a panel-workshop hosted by the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation on Tuesday Feb 22, from 10-11.30, called “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty of Women and Girls through Education and Training,” on the 2nd floor room of the CCUN (Church Center of the UN).

Update: Ika one of the girls from Indonesia, will speak at a panel on Commercial Sexual Exploitation and the Girl Child: A Human Rights Approach at the Main Auditorium, Salvation Army Social Justice Center, 221 East 52nd St between 2nd and 3rd Ave, on Feb 24th from 2-3.30 pm.

Update: Lil Shira from Cameroon will present on Violence and Discrimination against Girls in School, along with Marta Santos Pais (UN Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence against Children) and others on Feb 22, from 16-17.30 at UN Church Center, 777 United Nations Plaza, Drew Room, Ground Floor.

Join us at the some of the sessions or come for an evening with the 21+ crowd at #ICT4Drinks Feb 23rd at 6 pm at Me Bar.

We’re trying to interest the girls in tweeting during the CSW on the @plan_youth account and to blog at  http://plan_youth.tumblr.com, so check it out as of this Monday. (We’ll see if they are willing or not!)

You can follow the events on Twitter at the hashtag #CSW55.

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On January 11, 2011 from 11-12am, TechChange and I co-hosted a tweet chat on ICT for Development (ICT4D) distance learning. The idea came up after Ernst Suur and I spent a few months lamenting the irony that we couldn’t find any good on-line training around ICT4D, nor did we see ourselves being able to quit our jobs or reduce our work-related travel, move to where a university offering ICT4D is located, and accumulate a huge debt by going back to get an advanced university degree the traditional way. We wrote a post asking “Where’s the ICT4D Distance Learning” and had a few conversations with the guys at TechChange and a few others who are working on developing some solutions to that issue.

During the Twitter chat, we asked a set of questions about topics, timing, accreditation, skills, and delivery models to get a sense of what might appeal to potential learners. We had almost 60 people participate in the chat, and apparently our hashtag, #ICT4DDL, was even a top trending topic in Washington DC at around 11:30. Here’s the archive.

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I had a chance to meet in person with Mark, Nick and Jordan from TechChange last week while I was in DC and these guys are smoking! They are seriously moving on creating visually attractive, stimulating and engaging e-learning in the area of ICT4D. I’m looking forward to collaborating more with them as they develop courses and methodologies that can help people from different backgrounds and with different needs to access ICT4D training and learning. I like their approach of involving practitioners, looking at ICT4D strategically (eg, integrating it to achieve goals, learning how to choose the right technology and decide if technology is necessary at all) and supporting on the practical side (how to use specific ICT tools) and I think this type of training, if all goes well, will be a great opportunity for us all to get trained up in those areas we feel we are still missing.

Mark wrote up the following summary of the themes and highlights from the chat [the original post is here on TechChange's site: Recap of ICT4D Tweet Chat (#ICT4DDL)].

Course Topics: Some of the most popular ideas for courses included: social media for social change, sustainability, mobiles for development, and a course on ways to create and sustain collaboration through an online community. It was pointed out that users needs would be different based on access to and familiarity with technology. @fiona_bradley mentioned the need for strategic thinking and project planning for veteran change agents, because “tools change fast”.

Delivery: There was a desire expressed for blended learning models (face-to-face and online) and a sentiment that ICT4D face-to-face training was important. (list of existing ICT4D programs). There was also a feeling that experienced practitioners should be part of the course experience and that more needs to be done to engage them (@ICT_Works). Others stressed the fact that distance learning is the only option for those working in remote areas.

Credit vs. Certification: People generally preferred courses for credit, but some acknowledged that they had neither the time nor the funding for a full university degree course. Shorter-term certificate courses on specific topics appealed to many in the group.

The feedback we received throughout the tweet chat was quite useful, and as expected there was a wide variety of opinions expressed. As TechChange moves forward, we look forward to tailoring our courses to the needs of these and other users. We’re in the process of developing a 10-week online flagship course on Technology for Social Change. Everyone will be able access Unit 1 for free. From there we will develop more specialized courses and certification programs on subjects such as Technology for crisis response, Social media for social change, mHealth, and the Future of mobile devices for development. We are also working with individual organizations such as FrontlineSMS to create learning tools tailored specifically for their applications.

I’m really looking forward to taking some of the courses that TechChange comes up with and helping develop materials for some of them too.

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I spent a few days in Nairobi early last week with our education and our ICT staff from Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Mozambique, Kenya, Egypt and a few other folks, including the brilliant Mika Valitalo from our Finnish office and people from regional and headquarters levels. We were looking at goals and challenges in our education programs and thinking about where ICTs might play a role.

The process was really interesting. Starting a few months back, each country shared their education context analysis onto a wiki. In a second round they narrowed down to a specific area in education, looked at the information and communication flow and gaps, and identified areas where there might be an ICT solution. They focused mostly on mobiles, but in many cases mobiles were supported by computers, servers and laptops as well as non-digital information and communication tools and also solar technologies. Each country team met by Skype with Mika and an external consultant to discuss the concepts and get ICT advice and support. Then they updated their concepts and got additional feedback. For the third round, they added rich pictures to show what the specific ICT solutions might look like. Everyone had an opportunity to give input into everyone else’s ideas via the wiki.

At the meeting in Nairobi, we spent a day sharing the concepts with each other for clarification and focused input. Colleagues shared the broader education context in their countries and specifically in the communities where they are working. Then they illustrated the specific education issues and the ICT solutions that they were suggesting and/or the places they felt ICTs could help. Some of the ICT solutions focused on a very specific technology or device. Others showed how different types of ICTs could be integrated at different points in the process. Others required development of a totally new ‘solution’.

Some of the areas where colleagues thought ICTs could support education included: teacher training for those working in remote communities, adult literacy (especially literacy retention post literacy training), improving exam scores, livening up and improving in-class curriculum, and transparency and accountability in education. We spent 2 days then working in different small groups on the concepts, cross-pollinating ideas and deciding which of the concepts were most relevant to all 6 countries (in order to make it more possible to scale them) and which were most feasible and do-able.

The ideas were all a good fit with our global education strategy (see page 9) which focuses on service delivery (in partnership with local governments and communities); organizing and empowering rights holders; and grassroots participatory advocacy to influence education policies, financing and practice. The strategy prioritizes actions around equal access to education, quality of education, and education governance (see page 10).

Accountability and transparency in education

One of the concepts that captured the most interest from the whole group was that of using ICTs to improve accountability and transparency in education. Education is one of the areas where “Quiet Corruption” is often found. ‘Quiet corruption, which can take the form of absenteeism among teachers or doctors, the distribution of fake drugs, or the sale of diluted fertilizers to poor farmers, is having a damaging effect on people in Africa, according to the African Development Indicators report released by the World Bank….’ (March 18, 2010 article)

It's time for class.... where is the teacher to be found?

Edison, Charles and Erik, our colleagues from Uganda, did a short skit illustrating the different points in the primary education system where corruption happens. Their points correlated well with this summary of quiet corruption in education from a July 5, 2010 article in the Independent:

‘Early this year, the Transparency International (TI) Africa Education Watch Programme report: Africa Education Watch: good governance lessons for primary education showed that the government’s perception that massive enrollment is a sign of success of the UPE [universal primary education] programme must be revised to address the problem of overcrowding in classrooms, studying under trees, poor financial management, illegal fees, and lack of school inspection. The report exposes irritating embezzlement of UPE funds and abuse of authority by head-teachers who charge illegal fees, make students offer labour on teachers’ projects, sexual harassment, and systematic teacher absenteeism. The report noted that 85% of schools surveyed had either deficient accounting systems or none at all. In most cases, financial records were either unavailable or incomplete. The survey found limited financial documentation at district education offices and at schools. Most people who handle school grants had no training in basic finance management.

Another survey titled, The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda, conducted in 2007 by the Ministry of Education to determine efficiency in provision of education services found an average rate of teacher absenteeism of 27% in Uganda, compared to other countries like Zambia (17%), and Papa New Guinea (15%). The aggregate loss caused by this absenteeism constituted 19% which translates into Shs 53 billion out of the Shs276 billion of the Education ministry’s wage bill.

In a swift headcount at the beginning of this year, the Education ministry established that the number of pupils listed in primary school registers was 25% higher than those actually studying. Similarly, the report established that the number of students in lower secondary schools had been exaggerated by 12%. For instance at Amaji Primary School last year, the school register had 816 pupils. But when the headcount was conducted the school administration could not account for 302 pupils.

It is reported that many districts’ chief administrative officers have failed to show proper accountability for the UPE and USE funds.’

The Uganda team also explained that:

  • Parental interest in education is very low because since Universal Primary Education launched, parents feel it’s the government’s responsibility. Some youth we were working with in Kenya last year made a short film about poor performance in primary schools covering the same issue  (see below).
  • Teachers’ salaries are paid directly to their bank accounts, and there is no way to punish them if they don’t show up.
  • There are mechanisms to ensure that donor funds go from the national level to the district level and then on to the school, but no accountability mechanisms to ensure that they get from the school to the classroom and are translated into quality education for children.
  • District level government authority and accountability ends when they transfer funds to the schools; school directors can report to them that they have received funding and that everything is going fine when it’s really not.
  • Local school committees are often made up of people who are not neutral and who do not have the best interest of the children in mind. In some cases, school committee positions are used for personal gain and to launch individual political careers and political campaigns.
  • Lack of parental and community involvement in the education process and in school governance means that no one is demanding accountability from teachers and schools.
  • Sexual and physical violence in schools is very common and underreported. When it is reported, often nothing is done about it.
(Start playing the video, then click the small ‘cc’ button to turn on captions in English)

Colleagues from the other countries face the same challenges in their work and in their own children’s education.

Can ICTs play a role?

What is the solution then? Colleagues suggest that motivating parents and the community to get more involved in school governance and demanding transparency and accountability can begin to change the situation. This obviously requires a lot more than ICTs. So several different actions would be taken to engage and motivate parents and the community to take a bigger role in their children’s education. Then ICTs can be integrated into and support the process for sharing education information with parents, such as student absenteeism, grades, parent-school meetings, exam dates and scores, etc. Parents and students would also be able to report when teachers do not show up or suspected corruption. Students could also report abusive teachers, absent teachers, and other issues they are not happy with at the school. A neutral party would manage and hold the information that flows in and out to protect students from reprisal and to protect teachers from any abuse of the system in case fraudulent or incorrect information is reported. Commitment from those responsible for overseeing education to respond to the issues raised and take serious action is also needed, and this may be the biggest challenge overall. Plan can play a role there, leveraging existing relationships with local and national governments and Ministries.

The idea needs quite a bit of further work, a closer look at feasibility, and more research and input from local communities and parents. As mentioned, the ICTs are actually a small, but potentially very important, part of a much larger initiative to get parents and communities involved in school governance to demand transparent, accountable and quality education and budget spending.

Challenges in the process

Some of the challenges that we had to manage well during this initial piece of the longer process included:

  • We needed to ensure that we were starting with the context and the need for better information and communications, not starting with the technology and devices and building initiatives around them. Yet we also had to avoid getting lost in the overall context and missing the opportunity to pinpoint potential ICT solutions at specific places within the context. Role play and flip chart illustrations of the  ‘problem’ and the ‘solutions’ were very useful for getting more concrete (“So, Kofi is here in his community and he wants to …. So he uses xxx to do this, and then this happens and then….).
  • Though we wanted to specifically look at places that mobiles and other ICTs could support, it was important to list out all the factors that needed to be in place in order for the ICTs to work and to think clearly about the constraints we might face during implementation. One good question to help with that was, after seeing an idea or ICT solution presented, to ask “What needs to be in place in order for that to happen?” Then you start to remember critical things like community motivation, government interest to actually resolve a problem, electricity, someone to set up and manage a server, a strong enough network to download multimedia content, mobile versions of websites, educational content re-design for mobiles, teacher training on how to integrate ICTs in the classroom, limitations of SMS for doing something other than rote learning, higher versions of a mobile operating system, a smart phone, etc.
  • We had input from a potential corporate partner during the process. We learned that corporations are thinking several years ahead to what will be coming down the line; however non-profit are normally working within existing constraints and trying to find solutions that work here and now in the resource poor places where we work or ways to get around those constraints. Multi-level solutions seemed to be a good possibility; eg., ideas that can rely on SMS today, but have potential to expand as networks expand and data enabled mobiles become more available.
  • A corporation tends to think in terms of vendors, results, timelines, launch dates, price points, return on investment whereas a non-profit (at least ours) tends to think in terms of community members, organizations, process, participation, local context. Our facilitator even told us that a corporation normally does a presentation by starting with the solution, and then spending the rest of the presentation showing why that is the right solution. A non-profit usually starts a presentation by sharing all the context and background, and showing the process that led to eventually reaching the potential solution, including every step along the way, how ownership was achieved in the process, why different decisions were made and who participated in them. So keeping corporate vs non-profit cultures and languages in mind is also important when working on joint initiatives.
  • We need to remember to establish measurable indicators of success so that we can tell if this new type of intervention has a different/ better/ greater / lesser impact than carrying out a similar process without ICTs or with a different set of ICTs. This is something we will address once the full idea is developed. Impact measurement is very important to both corporate partners and development organizations.
  • This was the first time many were involved a process of this kind, so keeping the balance between technology and development goals was a constant challenge. We sometimes veered too far towards focusing on all the details of the context and then back to focusing too much on that piece of the context where a potential technology solution was seen. I think we were moving toward a pretty healthy mix of both. The process is nowhere near complete, and as we continue to work on the ideas and look at feasibility and actual implementation, we should find the sweet spot.
The work above was guided by Plan Finland’s recent publication ICT Enabled Development – Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work.  On the whole, it was a great learning process for everyone involved, and we came up with some good ideas that we will flesh out in the coming months. Having the opportunity to patiently and carefully think through areas and ways that ICTs can support program goals around education and discussing the ideas at length with colleagues was a capacity strengthening exercise for all involved and will mean that we will be more prone in general to thinking about incorporating ICTs in our work going forward.

Resources

ICT-Enabled Development

Plan’s Education Strategy 2010-2013

African Development Indicators Report by the World Bank

Africa Education Watch: Good Governance Lessons for Primary Education by Transparency International

The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda by the World Bank

Learn without Fear Report on School Violence by Plan. Summary and Full Report (also available in French and Spanish).

Painful lessons: the politics of preventing sexual violence and bullying at school by the Overseas Development Institute

Expel violence! A systematic review of interventions to prevent corporal punishment, sexual violence and bullying in schools by the International Observatory on Violence in Schools

School violence in OECD countries by Karen Moore, Nicola Jones and Emma Broadbent

Update: Owen Barder published an interesting post called Development 3.0 – is social accountability the answer, which refers to social accountability in education in Uganda and links to 2 other quite interesting papers: Fighting corruption to improve schooling: evidence from a newspaper campaign in Uganda; and a 2007 paper by the Center for Global Development challenging the findings of that paper: Putting the Power of Transparency in Context: Information’s Role in Reducing Corruption in Uganda’s Education Sector

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courtesy of bioweb.uwlax.edu

One of the best things about the Great Tshirt Debate has been the variety of voices and perspectives that are weighing in.  This one potentially misguided project was able to catalyze a huge discussion on the nature of ‘aid’.  Once again the power of social media to engage people in debate and dialogue was demonstrated.

There are a lot of angles to follow up on from last week’s blow up. There’s a lot to unpack and it goes much deeper than a conversation about t-shirts.  One thread I find particularly interesting is the use of social media and ICTs (information and communication technologies) for bringing greater accountability and generating input and dialogue around ideas for aid and development.

Christopher FabianOwen Barder and @Morealtitude wrote about this specifically in relation to the Tshirt Debate; and Duncan GreeneOwen Barder, Aidwatch,  Tim Ogden, and others in a broader debate about accountability, aid and development. Certainly there are many posts and discussions out there on this topic.

Some things that stand out for me in the aftermath of the tshirt discussion:

Broadening perspectives.

It’s easy to forget that we all mean something different when we use the terms ‘aid’ and ‘development.’ There is a big difference between emergency aid and longer-term development.  And there are countless theories and approaches and understandings of both of those terms  (Alanna Shaikh and Talesfromthehood have both written on that).  This was really apparent throughout the discussion last week and in the on-going commentary.

I’m still trying to sort out in my own mind the difference between the various aid and development theories, the perspectives of the ‘aid bloggers’ that I follow, and the frameworks of other people who were involved in the Tshirt Debate. People’s views are intimately linked with cultural, political, economic and religious worldviews, and varying levels of snark (which I have to say can be very intimidating) making it even more interesting.  Before Twitter and the blogosphere, I certainly didn’t have daily exposure and access to such an array of thoughts.  Score one for social media.

The elephant in the room.

All this access to all these perspectives and on-line debate and open participation is great for me. And for you. Because we read English and have access to the internet.

But there is a really big elephant in the room.  One that was lurking on the global conference call hosted by Mobile Active on April 30 and that is still standing around quietly as the discussions continue.  I’m talking about the voices and perspectives of the people that the 1millionshirts project was aimed at helping.

I would bet money that some of those voices would have said “I want a tshirt.”

There are a lot of possible outcomes when ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘donors’ actually talk to each other.  Like donors wanting to give t-shirts and people wanting to receive them.  Then what?  Most of those involved in aid and development and work with local economies can and have listed a myriad of reasons why handouts are not a good idea, but most also believe in listening to voices of ‘beneficiaries.’   It seems paternalistic to say that NGOs or businesspeople know best what people need.  What will happen when more donors and beneficiaries are using social media to talk to one another?  And what if NGOs or governments or business people trying to improve ‘developing country’ economies don’t agree?  Then what?  That’s going to be pretty interesting. For a taste of this can of worms, read this post and related comments.

Development education.

This brings me to thinking about the educational processes that contribute to good development results.  Around the world, people have been presented with hand-out and silver bullet ideas around development and aid for a long time. Donors need to be educated about effective aid and development, but communities do also.  People have been trained to gravitate towards one-off donations and charity mentalities, and need to learn why that isn’t actually very helpful in the long term. They’ve been taught that there is a silver bullet we just need to find. People have also been trained to take hand outs and see themselves as victims and need to re-learn how to take the reins and do for themselves.  This is true everywhere – people look for the easy way out. Consider how many people in the US for example prefer to get plastic surgery or take miracle diet pills and medications over adopting healthier lifestyles involving a good diet and exercise.  Complicated situations require integrated approaches and often need cultural shifts and behavior changes.  Those take time and effort and are hard to explain.  How does social media impact on or shift this in terms of aid and development, and in which direction is it shifting?

Barriers to social media participation.

Both #1millionshirts and Kiva were held up to a huge amount of scrutiny online via social media.  But again, who was scrutinizing, and who had access to the tools and means to participate in these widespread discussions?  It was not the people getting loans from Kiva or the eventual t-shirt wearers.  It was donors and ‘experts’.  I would hope that there are plenty of discussions happening about Kiva programs at local levels, in person, in meetings and in local media or newspapers. But these don’t normally make their way to the internet.

I don’t know Kiva’s programs well, but I would also hope that Kiva staff and/or partners, for example, are listening to that local input and using it to improve their programs on the ground to make them more useful to participants.  And I would hope that those discussions take place within a longer term education, training and relationship building process as with many NGOs.  This kind of input from and dialogue with program participants is every bit as important for adapting and improving programs and initiatives, and maybe more important, than all the public discussions on the internet…. as long as it’s being listened to and responded to, and as long as local offices are taking these messages up the chain within the organization, and as long as local offices also are being listened to and carry weight within the organization. What might be the role of social media there to move those offline discussions further within organizations and to educate, inform and engage the broader public and ensure that responses and changes are forthcoming and everyone learns from it?

There are still huge barriers to social media participation for many people in communities all over the world… not having electricity, computers, smart phones and internet, to start with. There are also barriers like language, literacy, age and gender based discrimination, hierarchies and cultural norms that limit participation in general by particular groups in discussions and decision making.  When working face-to-face, good organizations are in tune with the barriers and find ways to gather input from those typically left out of the discussion.  How can organizations use what they know about engaging more marginalized populations and apply it to a more creative use of social media to ensure that all voices are heard?  What resources and ICT tools would be needed to do that effectively?

Offline to Online to Offline

And how could more of the discussions that happen on the ground with communities, when programs are being designed, implemented, evaluated and re-designed; be shared in the open by those who are involved – whether participants, local bloggers, citizen journalists, NGO workers or others?  And how can the debates happening online make their way back to communities that are not connected? It would be amazing if more program staff and community workers were blogging and sharing their work and their challenges and accomplishments.  And if more organizational decision makers were listening to what their community workers or other staff who are blogging and tweeting are saying. And if more people participating in programs could share their viewpoints via the internet.  This would be useful to the global commons and would also help the fields of aid and development to improve.

How can we support more communities to have access to social media and ICTs as tools to participate more broadly? And how can community members be the owners and drivers of this discussion and input. How can we help bring voices from the grassroots to a broader public and also bring these broader public debates back to communities.  How can the access, language, literacy and cultural barriers be addressed?  There are some programs out there doing this, for example Global Voices Rising, MIT’s Department of Play at the Center for Future Civic Media, and the Maneno platform, but we really need more of it.

Youth.

I think as connectivity becomes less of a challenge, we will see the younger generation claiming spaces in this way. More organizations should be working to engage more young people in the development process and supporting them to access ICTs and social media.  When a consultation with children and youth was done after the Haiti earthquakes, for example, young people did not say that they wanted hand outs.  They said that they wanted to participate. They wanted to play a stronger role in the recovery and the reconstruction.  They said they wanted education, a voice in how things were to be done, decentralization.

Staff that I’ve worked with on youth and ICT programs in several countries have said that ICTs and community media are excellent tools for engaging youth in the development process and maintaining their interest, for supporting youth-led research and collecting opinions about community processes.  With advances in technology, these voices can reach a much broader and public audience and can be pulled into donor communications as well as used as input in the resource and problem analysis, program design,  program monitoring and evaluation processes.  Youth can access information previously unavailable to them which broadens their own views and helps in their education processes. They can also contribute information and images of themselves and their communities to the online pool of resources so that they are portraying themselves to the world in their own image as opposed to being shown by and through the eyes of outsiders.

In addition to the Tshirt Debate stirring up questions about good donorship, I really hope it stirs up the debate about the value of more local ‘beneficiary’ voices in aid and development discussions, and that it fuels more efforts to use, adapt, and develop social media tools and ICTs to support these voices to join the debate.

What about you?  What do you think?

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Next week I’ll have the honor of (wo)manning the expo table for Plan at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Exchange [the networking event after the actual CGI meeting]. It’s Plan’s first year at the CGI, which is exciting for us as an organization. The project that we’ve committed to is a convergence of many of the things that Plan has been getting deeper and deeper into in the past few years – youth engagement, youth employment, participatory media, social media, ICTs, youth voice, youth-led advocacy, and last but not least, girl power. I’ll be supporting the project with some training around social media and ICTs based on experiences in past projects such as the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project.

Our commitment, Vocational Skills and Media Training for Adolescent Girls in Ghana, is a three-year project that combines job skills training for girls with media production by girls.  The combination of these two elements will give girls key skill sets for employment opportunities while also creating public platforms for girls to raise awareness and advocate on issues affecting them. Through the project 140 adolescent girls will participate in training on media production and journalism, including citizen journalism/social media.  Of those, some will go on to participate in an internship program to do hands-on work in media.  The girls will be trained on how to use diverse types of media, including traditional as well as new media, to advocate against gender discrimination.  Adult journalists will participate in Plan’s training program on child rights and gender respect in media.  In the process, the project will engage the public through radio, television and web communication around the challenges that adolescent girls face in West Africa at the community, national, and regional levels. Participating girls will also have opportunities to meet and share experiences with each other and their female Ghanaian journalist mentors.

I really like this project because it brings so many critical elements into one initiative.  More and more Plan is supporting this type of work in Africa, and it really makes a difference in the youth themselves in terms of skills, self confidence, team work, and learning how to communicate issues of importance in a confident and respectful way.  It helps them access information and new skills that help them find employment. It also has an impact on communities who see their youth in a new light and who become more open to dialogue with youth around issues that youth want to discuss but may not be able to bring up in existing forums.  The media produced by children and youth can raise awareness and encourage dialogue at the national level, and it can be presented in global meetings to bring youth voices and a dose of reality into high level discussions. It can be shared on the internet to engage and involve people in other parts of the world, and to break down stereotypes about Africans. I also think one outcome will be that the participating girls and women will contribute to modernizing the field of journalism in Ghana because they will be trained on new media tools and they will likely think seriously about how girls are portrayed by the media in the future.

Plan’s research “Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls” came out in 2007, highlighting the urgency for us to focus more programs on girls as key players.  Out of this report, a decision was made to make girls Plan’s key focus over the next several years, and the Because I am a Girl Campaign was launched.  Since then, two in depth studies have highlighted specific issues: Because I am a Girl: In the Shadow of War (2008), and Girl’s Economic Empowerment (coming out later this month).

Come by our table to say hi if you happen to be at CGI exchange!

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