Technology to promote literacyPapua New Guinea (PNG) is an independent state comprised of about 600 small islands, that also shares a land border with Indonesia. PNG uses technology to promote literacy in a number of ways. PNG broke off from Australia in 1975 but still receives substantial economic, geographical and educational gains from the country. However, the Australian government reports that in spite of their economic growth and middle-income country status (due to agricultural and mineral wealth), “PNG’s social indicators are among the worst in the Asia Pacific. Approximately 85 percent of PNG’s mainly rural population is poor and an estimated 18 percent of people are extremely poor.”

The World Bank details that PNG also faces a “vexing” situation regarding their remoteness and number of languages. Communities in PNG are very closed off from one another and land travel is strenuous. PNG has 563 airports and air travel has proven to be the common way to get from one place to another. At over 800 languages, PNG is recognized as “the most linguistically diverse country in the world.” As a result of these two factors, PNG’s education system faces a variety of challenges. PNG was ranked 153 on the Human Development Index in 2017, and its adult literacy rate was reported to be 63.4 percent in 2015. Australian Aid and the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) cooperated to produce The SMS Story research project, a way to use technology to promote literacy.

The goal of the SMS Story Research Project was to ascertain whether daily text message stories and lessons would improve the reading ability of children in grades 1 and 2 in Papua New Guinea. The text messages were sent to elementary school teachers in the Madang Province and Simbu Province using a free, open-source software program called Frontline SMS. The project was a controlled trial with two groups, one group of teachers received the message and the other did not. About 2500 students were evaluated before and after the trial. Using statistical testing, it was determined that the reading ability of the group who received text messages was higher than that of the group that did not.

It was found that the schools participating in the study had little to no reading books in the classroom and that students in groups without an SMS story were “twice as likely to be unable to read a single word of three sub-tests (decodable words, sight words and oral reading).” It seemed that many classrooms in PNG did not provide easy access to reading materials or proper reading lessons.

Amanda Watson, a researcher involved with the project stated that the SMS stories were helpful to the teachers as well. She says, “The teachers actually received almost like a reminder to teach, a bit of a motivator to keep teaching and they received that every single day and we think that really helped them to realize that they’re supposed to be teaching reading every single day, five days a week.” This suggests that before the trial, some of the teachers may not have promoted reading as much as they should have, either due to lack of access to materials or not realizing its importance.

Daniel A. Wagner, of the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues, detail the importance of using technology to promote literacy in countries with minimal access to education or educational materials in their paper, “Mobiles for Literacy in Developing Countries: An Effectiveness Framework”. He underlines the importance of promoting literacy through information and communications technologies (ICTs) in today’s world where there are “more connected mobile devices than people” and provides several examples of organizations that are working towards increasing literacy through ICTs.

The Bridges to the Future Initiative (BFI) is run in South Africa by the Molteno Institute for Language and Literacy. They aim to “improve literacy through interactive, computer-based lessons” created by the University of Pennsylvania’s International Literacy Institute (ILI). They provide access to educational materials and issue students with “mother-tongue resources” in regions where computer sources or books are mostly in English. Comparably, Ustad Mobile is an application in Afghanistan that runs offline on phones. They center around instructing reading comprehension, listening, and numeracy. Teachers and students can download and share lessons; the app also includes exercises, videos and interactive quizzes in order to “mobilize education for all”.

BBC Janala is another project using technology to promote literacy in Bangladesh. It is a multi-platform service and can be accessed through TV, internet, print and mobile phones. BBC Janala concentrates on teaching English through three-minute audio lessons, quizzes, TV shows, newspapers, textbooks and CDs.

Illiteracy is an issue in Papua New Guinea; most likely due to the lack of reading materials and importance placed on literacy. However projects like, “The SMS Story” are all over the world and are working towards using technology to promote literacy one step at a time.

Jade Thompson
Photo: Flickr

literacy in bangladeshThe term “literacy” means far more today than in the past, incorporating not only the ability to read physical texts, but to also be able to comprehend and break down internet sources and articles as well. Bangladesh has been striving to make the country’s educational system develop these skills through the implementation of newer programs and the infusion of technology into schools. The government’s goal of creating an accomplished, educated population through digital education has helped to increase literacy in Bangladesh.

Education Overview

Bangladesh’s school system is broken down into four categories: pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary. The country currently has five years of compulsory education from age six to age ten. The country has been working to decrease the number of out of school children throughout the past ten years, with only 753 children not in school as of 2017. The number of out of school adolescents has also decreased, dropping from 2,776 children in 2010 to 995 children in 2017.

Impact of Digital Education

With these decreases in out-of-school children, Bangladesh has been working to increase the literacy levels throughout the country. Digital education is making access to reading materials and textbooks easier throughout all regions, which helps to improve literacy in Bangladesh. Using digital materials to increase the level of education in schools is helping children to understand the tools available through the internet and infuse a larger amount of knowledge into the current school systems in place. Many schools have adopted the use of technology to aid education throughout the country, incorporating digital white boards, tablet devices and learning apps to infuse more learning materials into classrooms.

JAAGO Foundation

One group working to improve literacy rates in Bangladesh is the JAAGO Foundation, which has helped through the creation of a digital school. This school helps to teach information and communications technology (ICT) to students, which was accredited by UNESCO in 2017 as an innovative, new method for ICT education. The school is set up into parts: a headquarters for teachers located in Dhaka, and classrooms in remote areas with video-streaming technology to broadcast lessons from the headquarters. JAAGO’s school also includes interactive calls between the students and the teachers in Dhaka so that these students have opportunities to ask questions and get individual learning time.

JAAGO has also partnered with Bangladesh’s government through the A2i project, which provides an e-learning platform for students looking for an online education. This platform, named Muktopaath, features both videos and educational lessons to supplement traditional education forms and help to increase the literacy rates throughout the country.

Literacy Rates on the Rise

Because of institutions like the digital school from the JAAGO Foundation, literacy in Bangladesh is currently at an all-time high, with 72.76 percent of the population being literate in 2016. This number has increased by 26.1 percent from 2007, where literacy rates were measured at 46.66 percent. The literacy rate for people between 15 to 24 has also increased drastically, from 61.87 percent in 2007 to 92.24 percent in 2016. These figures show how Bangladesh is working to break out of the Least Developed Country (LDC) designation and improve overall quality of education throughout the regions.

Bangladesh’s government has also been increasing funding to local schools to benefit the quality of literacy and education throughout the country. Government spending toward education was over $4.3 billion in 2016, which is more than double what the government spent in 2008. The National Education Policy of 2010 helped to make education accessible for everyone, and over 26,000 primary schools have been accredited by the government as national schools to ensure that a primary school is in every region of the country.

Literacy in Bangladesh has been steadily increasing by infusing technology into local schools. Through increasing government funding for schools and with the help of outside programs like the JAAGO Foundation, educational systems throughout the country are beginning to rise to meet international education standards. As more technology is added into school systems, Bangladesh will continue to improve in international standings and surpass LDC status within the next few years.

– Kristen Bastin
Photo: Flickr

UNICEF Innovation Fund
Starting in February, UNICEF will be accepting applications for its Innovation Fund. The funding will go to companies, teams or ideas from the developing world that help empower the local youth.

To be eligible for funding, the recipient’s project must use open source technology. This means that it is open to the public and can be modified by anyone.

UNICEF’s Innovation Principles stresses the importance of open source tech. According to UNICEF’s website, open source technology permits a global community of developers and designers to tweak and improve the code and design elements.

This allows the latest and most effective methods to be applied to the tech at no additional cost. It facilitates the creation of a public good by a global community.

In addition to the open source requirement, the tech must help local youth through the Innovation Fund’s three portfolio areas:

The first is that the project must be for people under the age of 25. Technology for this group can help break down the barriers that restrict access to information. It can also allow youth to connect with each other to share and scale their own solutions.

The second portfolio area of the Innovation Fund is real time information. With constantly updating data, decision makers will be more informed. Inefficiencies, disparities and restrictions can be resolved quickly.

The third area is infrastructure. UNICEF’s Innovation Fund aims to increase access to information for youth by improving infrastructure like connectivity, sensors and transport.

The open source requirement and the three portfolio areas represent the fund’s overall theme of access. The Innovation Fund desires that all children have unrestricted access to information.

According to its website, UNICEF believes “access to information, particularly basic, life-enhancing information, is a human right.”

This access to life-improving information is typically much more difficult for children living in poverty.

UNICEF Innovation Co-Lead, Christopher Fabian, stressed this when he said to Panarmenian.net: “We’ll be identifying opportunities from countries around the world including some that may not see a lot of capital investment in technology start-ups.”

He went on to say, “We are hoping to identify communities of problem-solvers and help them develop simple solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing children.”

So far, the Innovation Fund has raised $9 million for technology that helps young people. These funds have gone to various projects that improve the lives of children, like the U-Report project in Burkina Faso.

U-Report increases real-time access to information to help young women and girls in Burkina Faso. It connects the local girls so they can better cope with harmful traditional practices.

It also allows the girls to share information with each other, such as how to practice safe sex and improve familial practices.

UNICEF’s Innovation Fund helps empower youth in the developing world by increasing access to information through open source technology.

Andrew Wildes

Sources: Innovation Fund Backgrounder, OpenSource, Panarmenian, UNICEF Innovation Fund 1, UNICEF Innovation Fund 2, UNICEF Innovation Fund 3
Picture: Google Images

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While the UN recently approved the Sustainable Development Goals in January 2016, eradicating poverty and combating climate change are considered the top two global problems. More than ever before, computer science education will be crucial for students in low-income communities in order to avoid poverty.

In today’s world of technology, it is imperative for students to become exposed to computer technology at a young age.

To ensure children learn about computer technology at an early age, New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, announced that within 10 years, all students attending the city’s public schools would be required to take computer science courses.

New York City plans to spend $81 million over the next 10 years and estimates training 5,000 teachers in the field, which could be a potential issue.

“The difficulty is getting enough teachers who are trained in it, and trained well enough to make it a good introduction to computer science,” said Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach at Georgia Tech’s College of Computing. “And if you are well-trained in computer science, you can make a lot more money in industry than teaching.”

Of the $81 million needed, half of the money will be raised through private sources, including the Robin Hood Foundation and venture capitalist Fred Wilson.

Interestingly, a survey done by Google found that many poor parents want their children to learn computer science education so they have the opportunity to lead a better life.

While 15.3 percent of New York City lives in poverty, the opportunity for these students to be exposed to computer science at a young age could change the course of poverty and their futures.

“Stimulating the curiosity of today’s young students for math and science is critical for creating tomorrow’s physicists, mathematicians and cosmologists,” said Rocky Kolb, Dean of the Physical Sciences Division at University of Chicago.

With knowledge of computer education, students have the opportunity to attend college studying the field and could possibly work in New York City’s fastest growing technology sector.

“If we can get them earlier, I think we can get them excited about it,” Mr. Wilson said.

Alexandra Korman

Sources: Gigaom, NY Times, United States Census, University of Chicago,
Photo: blogs.perficient