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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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the Ghana team: row 1: Steven, Joyce, Yaw, Samuel; row 2: Bismark, Maakusi, James, Chris, Dan

I was in a workshop in the Upper West Region of Ghana this past week.  The goal was two-fold.  1) to train a small group of staff, ICT teachers and local partners on social media and new technologies for communications; and 2) to help them prepare for a project that will support 60 students to use arts and citizen media in youth-led advocacy around issues that youth identify.

I was planning to talk about how social media is different from traditional media, focusing on how it offers an opportunity to democratize information, and how we can support youth to use social media to reduce stereotypes about them and to bring their voices and priorities into global discussions.  But all those theories about social media being the great equalizer, the Internet allowing everyone’s voices to flourish and yadaya, don’t mean a lot unless barriers like language, electricity, gender, and financial resources are lowered and people can actually access the Internet regularly.

Mobile internet access is extremely good in this part of Ghana, but when we did a quick exercise to see what the experience levels of the group were, only half had used email or the Internet before.  So I started there, rather than with my fluffy theories about democratization, voice, networks and many-to-many communications.

We got really good feedback from the participants on the workshop.  Here’s how we did it:

What is Internet?

I asked the ICT teachers to explain what the Internet is, and to then try to put it into words that the youth or someone in a community who hadn’t used a computer before would be able to understand.  We discussed ways in which radios, mobile phones, televisions are the same or different from the Internet.

How can you access Internet here?

We listed common ways to access Internet in the area: through a computer at an internet café or at home or work, through a mobile phone (“smart phone”), or via a mobile phone or flash-type modem connected to a computer (such as the ones that we were using at the workshop).  We went through how to connect a modem to a computer to access internet via the mobile network.

Exploring Internet and using search functions

Riffing off Google search

We jumped into Internet training by Googling the community’s name to see what popped up, then we followed the paths to where they led us. We found an article where the secondary school headmaster (who was participating in the workshop) had been interviewed about the needs of the school.

Everyone found it hilarious, as they didn’t know the headmaster was featured in an online article.  This lead to a good discussion on consent, permission and the fact that information does go global, but it doesn’t stay global, because more and more people are able to access that same information locally too through the Internet, so you need to think carefully about what you say.

The article about the school had a comments stream. The first comment was directly related to the article, and said that the school deserved to get some help.  But the comments quickly turned to politics, including accusations that a local politician was stealing tractors.  Again this generated a big discussion, and again the local-global point hit home.  The internet is not ‘over there’ but potentially ‘right here’.  People really need to be aware of this when publishing something online or when being interviewed, photographed or filmed by someone who will publish something.

Other times when we’ve done this exercise, we haven’t found any information online about the community. In those cases, the lack of an online presence was a good catalyst to discuss why, and to motivate the community to get the skills and training to put up their own information. That is actually one of the goals of the project we are working on.

We used a projector, but small groups would have also been fine if there was no projector and a few computers were available. We generally use what we can pull together through our local offices, the small amount of equipment purchased with the project funds, and what the local school and partners have, and organize it however makes the most sense so that people can practice.  4-5 people per computer is fine for the workshop because people tend to teach each other and take turns. There will be some people who have more experience and who can show others how to do things, so that the facilitator can step out of the picture as soon as possible, just being available for any questions or trouble shooting.

Social networks and privacy

When we Googled the name of the community, we also found a Facebook page for alums from the secondary school.  That was a nice segue into social networks.  I showed my Facebook page and a few others were familiar with Facebook. One colleague talked about how she had just signed up and was finding old school friends there who she hadn’t seen in years. People had a few questions such as ‘Is it free?  How do you do it? Can you make it yourself?  Who exactly can see it?’  So we had to enter the thorny world of privacy, hoping no one would be scared off from using Internet because of privacy issues.

One of the ICT teachers, for example, was concerned that someone could find his personal emails by Googling.  I used to feel confident when I said ‘no they can’t’ but now it seems you can never be certain who can see what (thank you Facebook).  I tried to explain privacy settings and that it’s important to understand how they work, suggesting they could try different things with low sensitivity information until they felt comfortable, and test by Googling their own name to see if anything came up.

Online truth and safety

Another question that surfaced was ‘Is the internet true?’ This provoked a great discussion about how information comes from all sides, and that anyone can put information online.  And anyone else can discuss it.  It’s truth and opinions and you can’t believe everything you read, it’s not regulated, you need to find a few sources and make some judgment calls.

A participant brought up that children and youth could use Internet to find ‘bad’ things, that adults can prey on children and youth using the Internet.  We discussed that teachers and parents really need to have some understanding of how Internet works. Children and youth need to know how to protect themselves on the Internet; for example, not posting personal information or information that can identify their exact location.  We discussed online predators and how children and youth can stay secure, and how teachers and communities should learn more about Internet to support children and youth to stay safe.

We discussed the Internet as a place of both opportunities and risks, going back to our earlier discussions on Child Protection in this project and expanding on them.  I also shared an idea I’d seen on ICT Works about how to set up the computers in a way that the teachers/instructor can see all the screens and know what kids are doing on them – this is more effective than putting filters and controls on the machines.

Speaking of controls: virus protection and flash drives

The negative impact of viruses on productivity in African countries has been covered by the media, and I enthusiastically concur. I’ve wasted many hours because someone has come in with a flash drive that infected all the computers we are using at a workshop.  Our general rule is no flash drives allowed during the workshop period.  I have no illusions, however, that the computers will remain flash drive free forever.  One good thing to do to reduce the risk of these autorun viruses is to disable autorun on the computers.  This takes about 2 minutes.  After you do that, you just have to manually access flash drives by opening My Computer from the start menu. A second trick is to create an autorun.inf file that redirects the virus and stops it from propagating on your machine. Avast is a free software that seems to catch most autorun viruses.  Trend Micro doesn’t seem to do very well in West Africa.

Hands on, hands on, hands on

I cannot stress enough the importance of hands on. We try to make sure that there is a lot of free time at this kind of workshop for people to play around online.  This usually means keeping the workshop space open for a couple hours after the official workshop day has ended and opening up early in the morning. People will skip lunch, come early, and stay late for an opportunity to get on-line. Those with more experience can use that time to help others. People often use this time to help each other open personal email accounts and share their favorite sites.

No getting too technical

People don’t want to listen to a bunch of theory or mechanical explanations on how things work. They don’t need to see the inside of a CPU, for example. They need to know how to make things work for them.  And the only way they will figure it out is practice, trial and error, playing around.  If a few people in the workshop are really curious to know the mechanics of something, they will start asking (if the facilitator is approachable and non-threatening), but most people for starters just want to know how to use the tools.

No showing off

I’ll always remember my Kenyan colleague Mativo saying that in this kind of work, a facilitator’s main role is demystifying ICTs.  So that means being patient and never making anyone feel stupid for asking a question, or showing any frustration with them.  If someone makes a mistake or goes down a path and doesn’t know how to get back and the facilitator has to step in to do some ‘magic’ fixing, it’s good to talk people through some of the ‘fix’ steps in a clear way as they are being done.

My friend DK over at Media Snackers said that he noticed something when working with youth vs adults on Internet training: youth will click on everything to see what happens. Adults will ask what happens and ask for permission to click.  [update:  Media Snackers calls this the ‘button theory‘].  Paying close attention to learning styles and tendencies of each individual when facilitating, including those related to experience, rural or urban backgrounds, age, gender, literacy, other abilities, personality, and adjusting methodologies helps everyone learn better.

Have fun!

Lightening up the environment and making it hands on lowers people’s inhibitions and helps them have the confidence to learn by doing.

**Check back soon for a second post about photography, filming, uploading and setting up a YouTube account….

Related posts on Wait… What?

Child protection, the media and youth media programs

On girls and ICTs

Revisiting the topic of girls and ICTs

Putting Cumbana on the map: with ethics


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