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Education in India
Schools in India shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19. While a lot of schools transitioned into online curriculums, many were unable to make this infrastructural shift. More than half of India’s population lives in rural areas. Furthermore, only 15% of rural households have access to the internet. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the digital divide within the country. NGOs, foundations and other social enterprises have become key to improving education in India.

Sampark

Sampark Foundation has reached more than 10 million children in six states throughout India. It focuses on education equality, providing low-cost educational services in order to broaden its reach. Sampark Smart Shala uses innovations such as board games, mobile applications and rechargeable audio devices to keep students engaged in lessons. These innovations specifically cater to students in rural areas.

Sampark’s COVID-19 response utilizes the national television channel Doordarshan and language-friendly apps to share quizzes and improve education in India. Furthermore, this organization posts ideas on a crowdsourced platform called Baithak for teachers to use. Teachers are also encouraged to keep in touch with their pupils.

Recently, Sampark has launched a program called Har Ghar Science STEM for Girls. This program’s goal is to establish science labs in rural schools and adopt an ascending approach to educating girls. As a result, education in India continues to evolve positively within rural communities.

Pratham

Pratham is an NGO based in Mumbai. Its goal is to bridge the gap in the Indian education system by implementing high-quality, low-cost and replicable interventions. This organization’s programs have improved education in India tremendously. Additionally, Pratham aids the government in encouraging children to regularly attend school. The organization relies on parents, local communities, volunteers and state governments to create personalized models of learning.

Currently, Pratham is working to engage underprivileged children and improve education in India through new programs. Karona Thodi Masti Thodi Padhai (Do it: A Little Fun, A Little Study) is a new program developed to aid students during the COVID-19 pandemic. This program uses popular messaging services, radio and WhatsApp to check in with students virtually. This new aspect of learning prioritizes “fun” and “study” to motivate students during this stressful time.

Eklavya

Eklavya is an NGO that works in education resource centers in Madhya Pradesh. This organization focuses on helping impoverished children become self-sufficient learners. Eklavya has published several books on education, children’s literature and other resource material, believing that education should be based on curiosity and experiences to motivate students. This NGO aims to enhance education in India by focusing on rural areas. Eklavya trains eligible parents, siblings and local youth to teach at well-ventilated spaces within local, socially distanced locations. Additionally, it has established a mobile-library system that rotates between localities.

Vidya

Vidya is an NGO that has served 3.7 million people in major cities such as Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. This organization aims to provide education on life-skills, vocations and mental and physical wellbeing. Vidya’s goal is to improve education equality throughout India.

In response to the pandemic, Vidya developed strategies to combat the effects of COVID-19 on education in India. The NGO divided its solutions into technology and organization-based approaches. Solutions include reorganized exam schedules, adjusted syllabi and increased planning for a teaching aid for the next academic year.

The technological divide has made it difficult for students living in impoverished areas to access education in India. However, Vidya has received donations for phones, laptops and other devices to improve access to education. It arranges for students to pick up these devices at their convenience.

Thinkzone

Thinkzone is a social enterprise that aims to improve educational outcomes for children living in vulnerable communities. It uses “tech plus touch” models to combat inequality in education. Similar to other organizations, Thinkzone uses community-based approaches. This organization’s COVID-19 response is rooted in home-based learning that relies on phone calls and SMS to interact with parents who have started teaching their children. Fortunately, automated calls and interactive voice response technologies are accessible in many different languages. These automated calls provide pre-recorded course material to improve education in India.

This organization also strives to train community educators and assess the needs of students for further improvement. Furthermore, Thinkzone has partnered with various organizations and the government to improve education in India. Its home-based initiative has successfully reached more than 10,000 children in India.

These organizations have taken significant steps to improve education in India and aid the government in creating a more sustainable way of learning. With improved access to technology, education equality will continue to improve long after the pandemic has ended.

Anuja Mukherjee 
Photo: Flickr

Computer Access in GhanaAs one of the world’s poorest African countries, Ghana has a poverty rate that touches roughly 55 percent of its population, with only 24% possessing internet access. This acute problem owes itself in part to a large number of its youth, who grow up in the absence education accessibility. However, educators have begun to combat the ailments of impoverished Ghanaian communities. To do this, they utilize the fundamental cornerstone of a globalized world- computer technology. Computers have empowered Ghana’s poverty-stricken youth. As a result, they gain greater access to future job security and change the course of their own lives, along with the communities they inhabit. Below are three ways that computers and new technologies are improving the standard of living in Ghana.

Teaching 21st-Century Job Skills to Teens

The inclusion of computer access within the Ghanaian education system allows teens to develop valuable 21st-century technology literacy. It stands to open critical doors to higher education. In an era that is inarguably dominated by mobile phones, laptops, and wireless communications, access proves paramount. Programs like those presented by Ghana Code Club, which has taught nearly 1,700 students and trained over 300 teachers, enrich Ghana’s youth specifically with computer science as well as coding languages classes, paving the way for future innovations, as well as national economic growth.

Increasing Earning Potential

A Pew Survey showed that computer users connected to the internet are more likely to have higher incomes. The University of Ghana offers a dedicated computer science course that nurtures software programmers, who have the potential to earn up to three times as much as their professors. However, only through expansion will these opportunities allow them to truly reach a wide demographic. Increased computer access in Ghana is difficult to ensure. Currently, only around 36 people graduate from the University of Ghana’s technology program annually. Vast areas of the country are still shielded from these positive impacts.

Breaking the Gender Stereotype

Despite the computer’s role in expanding social and economic standards in Ghana, many traditional African communities restrict women and girls on the basis of acceptable gender roles. Although, new non-governmental organizations like STEMbees, a Ghana-based organization, inspire and allow young girls to break the stigma and enter into the fields of coding science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Other organizations, like UNESCO’s Girls Can Code, also work to fight the ongoing battle against gender stereotypes in the African educational sphere. Methods that implement computer stations in Ghanaian villages and equip new schools with current technology continue to increase computer access in Ghana.

Ghana now finds itself in the unique position of being on the verge of a technological revolution that coincides with its industrial revolution. Each of the two transformational eras is set to drive the country towards a prosperous future. This future, additionally, carries with it the promise of greater opportunity for Ghanaian children. Average Ghanaian students gaining access to computer technology furthers the assurance of a better standard of living for Ghanaian citizens. Over time, this development can carry on for generations to come.

Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Coding in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is primarily an agricultural country, with more than 80 percent of its citizens living in rural areas. More than 108.4 million people call Ethiopia home, making it Africa’s second-largest nation in terms of population. However, other production areas have become major players in Ethiopia’s economy. As of 2017, Ethiopia had an estimated gross domestic product of $200.6 billion with the main product coming from other sources than agriculture.

Today, 1.2 million Ethiopians have access to fixed telephone lines, while 62.6 million own cell phones. The country broadcasts six public TV stations and 10 public radio shows nationally. 2016 data showed that over 15 million Ethiopians have internet access. While 15 percent of the population may not seem significant, it is a sharp increase in comparison to the mere one percent of the population with Internet access just two years prior.

Coding in Ethiopia: One Girl’s Success Story

Despite its technologically-limited environment, young tech-savvy Ethiopians are beginning to forge their own destiny and pave the way for further technological improvements. One such pioneer is teenager Betelhem Dessie. At only 19, Dessie has spent the last three years traveling Ethiopia and teaching more than 20,000 young people how to code and patenting a few new software programs along the way.

On her website, Dessie recounts some of the major milestones she’s achieved as it relates to coding in Ethiopia:

  • 2006 – she got her first computer
  • 2011- she presented her projects to government officials at age 11
  • 2013-she co-founded a company, EBAGD, whose goals were to modernize Ethiopia’s education sector by converting Ethiopian textbooks into audio and visual materials for the students.
  • 2014-Dessie started the “codeacademy” of Bahir Dar University and taught in the STEM center at the university.

United States Collaboration

Her impressive accomplishments continue today. More recently, Dessie has teamed up with the “Girls Can Code” initiative—a U.S. Embassy implemented a project that focuses on encouraging girls to study STEM. According to Dessie, “Girls Can Code” will “empower and inspire young girls to increase their performance and pursue STEM education.”

In 2016, Dessie helped train 40 girls from public and governmental schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia how to code over the course of nine months. During those nine months, Dessie helped her students develop a number of programs and projects. One major project was a website where students can, according to Dessie, “practice the previous National examinations like SAT prep sites would do.” This allows students to take practice tests “anywhere, anytime.” In 2018, UNESCO expanded a similar project by the same name to include all 10 regions in Ghana, helping to make technology accessible to more Africans than ever before.

With the continuation of programs like “Girls Can Code” and the ambition of young coders everywhere, access to technology will give girls opportunities to participate in STEM, thereby closing the technology gender gap in developing countries. Increased STEM participation will only serve to aid struggling nations in becoming globally competitive by boosting their education systems and helping them become more connected to the world in the 21st century.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Digital Gap Act Benefits the U.S.The Digital Gap Act’s (H.R. 600) objective is primarily to foster greater internet access in developing countries in order to:

  1. Reduce poverty
  2. Improve education
  3. Empower women
  4. Advance U.S. interests

What the Digital Gap Act Will Do

Three billion people, that is 60 percent of the world’s population, lack internet access. As a result of that, those same three billion people are outside the radius of the free flow of information, innovations in health, education and commerce and are therefore lacking access to U.S. goods and services.

As the Digital Gap Act establishes internet access for these people, several features of the developing world would improve, while benefiting the U.S. simultaneously.

How the Digital Gap Act Benefits the U.S.

Bringing 500 million women online has the potential to add an additional $18 billion in GDP growth across 144 countries, which expands the global market for U.S. goods and services. The act also promotes democracy and good governance due to the transparency that follows the free flow of information on the Internet, instilling a favorable investment climate.

Furthermore, the Digital Gap Act could generate a possible $2.2 trillion in additional total GDP, which is a 72 percent increase in the GDP growth rate of developing countries. It would also spur job creation, up to 140 million jobs to be more precise, benefitting both the U.S. and developing countries, and would increase personal income gains to $600 per person in developing countries each year.

Lastly, the Digital Gap Act would lift 160 million people out of extreme poverty, all of whom would work their way into a growing market. This also means 2.5 million lives would be saved through improving healthcare.

Previous Advances Due to Greater Digital Access

Improved access to the internet has long been proven to advance the world as a whole. Eight million entrepreneurs in China now use e-commerce to sell goods, one-third of them being women. India reduced corruption and increased access to services by using digital identification. Africans with HIV were better reminded to take their medication through SMS messages.

The Digital Gap Act benefits the U.S. in a plethora of ways. Anywhere from cybersecurity to global political stability, global health to job availability and economic growth to cost-effective development practices, the developing world as well as the U.S. have much to reap from the gains in all these sectors. So today, U.S. taxpayers have a well-defined and remarkable reason to celebrate for the nation’s considerable contribution in the form of the Digital Gap Act.

– Roberto Carlos Ventura
Photo: Flickr

technological innovations are providing educationAround the world, rural and poor areas face the struggle to provide an education to their inhabitants. What makes matters worse is the difference in resources and environments poorer areas have access to compared to richer, largely technologically-driven communities.

Since most informational and communication technologies (ICTs) used in education originate from high-income environments, some technology-enabled solutions may not be adequate in certain places where they do not work or where they are too expensive to be replicated or sustained. There is a digital divide in access to technology and access to reliable power, and there is also a second digital divide in the degree to which the skills and abilities of people can improve from access to such technology.

Tackling the Digital Divide

On the bright side, technologists and education leaders are adapting different technologies to resolve this issue. Some important principles to incorporate in ICTs in low-income, remote educational environments are to prioritize sustainability, to focus on what devices can make possible rather than on what the devices can do and to start trying to implement tools where things are less likely to work first in order to identify possible issues.

One example of how technological innovations are providing education would be the MobiStation, a solar-powered “classroom in a suitcase.” Its projector and offline educational content provide innovative learning environments for children in Uganda. Another example would be BRCK, a connectivity device that addresses the lack of electricity and internet connections in Kenya.

How Technological Innovations Are Providing Education

There are various issues that come with providing education in the context of poor communities, thus there are many approaches that people have taken to implementing various solutions. The following are some examples that show how technological innovations are providing education by supplementing for the lack of access to resources with “old” technologies:

  • Interactive Radio Instruction’s broadcasts are able to provide instructions to teachers and students in many remote classrooms simultaneously by just making use of radios.
  • Similarly, Interactive Educational Television provides many students in the Amazon with an education by using televisions where teachers are not available. Also similarly, the Tata Sky Classroom is providing learning at a distance to students in India through television, radio, home video as well as on demand internet video.
  • Same language subtitling of Bollywood movies is helping millions of “low literate” people in India acquire reading skills.
  • Mobile phones in remote communities in Pakistan, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea provide access to educational content, alleviating some of the challenges that come with isolation of peers as well as lack of textbooks and other teaching materials.

There are also some offline tools that are not affected by the sporadic and unreliable internet connectivity in many poor regions. Low-cost e-readers distribute many books in digital formats to reading devices by taking innovative methods to cache online content for offline use. Affordable video cameras (like those found on mobile phones) provide Indonesian teachers a way of giving feedback to and sharing with other teachers their curricula.

In Cambodia, World Eduation, Inc. is working with Kampuchean Action for Primary Education to monitor students’ progress through reading material to identify those that need extra attention. The program makes use of networked laptops and encourages families to read at home.

Bringing Technologies to New Areas

Resources are spreading and developing in many areas that do not currently have them. Myanmar is slowly connecting to the internet and providing electricity to its rural regions with the help of global players like Ericsson, which is working to connect schools in Myanmar.

Furthermore, HP has set up seven Future Classrooms in India. These Future Classrooms, cloud-enabled classrooms that come with HP hardware and internet access and provides access to educational software tools like HP Video Book, are helping over 3,200 students and job seekers in India. SIMS is another program that comes with the package; it helps students manage their courses. Yet another program, HP Life, consists of 25 free, self-paced courses in seven languages. Its classes include business, IT and even entrepreneurship skills.

Even more, technological innovations are providing education by optimizing the number of people who can use educational tools. Low-cost versions of digital whiteboards and projectors allow up to 50 students in a single classroom to use one computer independently as long as they each have their own mouse.

The Hole in the Wall project places shared outdoor computing facilities in slum communities to educate children without formal schooling. Additionally, the Varkey Foundation, Dubai Cares and the Ghanaian Ministry of Education are collaborating to provide 40 schools in Ghana with a satellite dish, a projector, a solar-powered computer, a modern electronic blackboard and a trained instructor to provide biweekly training workshops for teachers.

Solutions for the Future

There are several solutions that develop educational content and tools locally. People in Afghanistan are making use of low end mobile phones to create resources that not only can be used by low literate users but also are relatively easy to develop. Also, Open Learning Exchange installs solar-powered Basic e-Learning Libraries (BeLLs) onto small computer hard drives in Ghana.

While there are many barriers to making current educational technologies useful to poor communities without access to electricity or internet, there are also many innovations that will change this. Technological innovations are providing education globally and will continue to help create a better future for the world.

– Connie Loo

Photo: Flickr

mobile apps in developing countries
In the last 10 years alone, the number of mobile phone users has grown to four billion, with 37 percent of that growth occurring in developing economies. With internet availability expected to reach even the least developed nations in the next couple of years, a rapidly growing market for mobile apps in developing countries will likely expand even more.

Why is This the Trend?

In areas of Asia and Africa, one can buy a smartphone for the equivalent of $30. Simply put, mobile technology is the most convenient and cheapest technology option available for developing countries.

This convenience is one reason why the biggest market growth is seen in three main regions:

  1. Latin America, where smartphone adoption has seen double-digit growth and mobile banking gives financial access to those who might not ordinarily have it.
  2. South Asia, where in places like Vietnam, the number of Internet users has grown from four million to 45 million in just the last 10 years.
  3. The Middle East and North Africa, where, in Egypt alone, downloads of tool and messaging apps rose 60 percent in a year.

What Are the Uses for Mobile Apps in Developing Countries?

Whether it is to increase food production, access health information, launch a startup or improve education, a new reliance on mobile apps in developing countries transforms the way nations grow. While access to education is not a given in developing countries, the concept and means of education are shifting.

Four of the five top countries for educational app downloads are India, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. A large reason for this is that 50 percent of South Asians and 33 percent of Africans who finish school still cannot read, and 60 percent of six- to 14-year-olds in India cannot read at a second-grade level.

Mobile Apps are Facilitating Needed Change

For farmers who seek to increase food production, change is especially welcome. For practical purposes, apps like iCow allow livestock farmers in Kenya to track gestational periods for their animals, find veterinarians and monitor best practices. An app called Esoko disseminates information to farmers about market prices, weather forecasts and advisory services. Yet another popular app, WeFarm, offers a peer-to-peer platform for farmers to share information among themselves, with or without Internet access.

Beyond the fields and the classroom, popular mobile apps in developing countries range from banking apps like M-PESA, which allows for the transfer of funds over text message, to Voto Mobile, voice-based services in local languages. These programs have been rolled out in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and India.

In India, as with much of the developing world, access to good healthcare is also a concern. With over 60 million people in the country with type two diabetes and 36 million living with Hepatitis B, its people look to take advantage of the over 100,000 healthcare apps that already exist.

Never has technology been so accessible, yet never has the need for technology been so dire. With the myriad issues that arise because of extreme poverty, mobile technology gives rise to a new hope for developing nations.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr

AT&T philanthropy
In 1876, AT&T founder Alexander Graham Bell developed one of the most significant devices ever invented, the telephone. In 1947, AT&T created the concept of cellular telephony, and in 1948 they built the first network service that allowed television broadcasters to connect between cities. In 1971, AT&T produced Unix, the underlying language of the internet.

In addition to its technical advancements, for AT&T philanthropy has become one of its core missions, beginning in the early days with the goal to provide telephone access to every household in the United States. Eventually, that core focus evolved as AT&T transitioned from a telephone company to a wireless technology company firmly committed to the potential for technological advances that connected the world.

In its drive for global interconnectivity, AT&T has donated $139.3 million to philanthropic efforts around the globe. Their programs are divided into several focus areas, including art and culture, civic and community, health and welfare, as well as education.

In Malaysia, AT&T partnered with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to host an annual developers’ day in Kuala Lumpur. The event opened opportunities for young entrepreneurs in Asia to compete by producing mobile applications.

AT&T philanthropy efforts provided the networking infrastructure and educational resources that made the event a success. The winners of the competition received $10,000. Additionally, AT&T provided five scholarships to Udacity for an online degree in the technology field.

In Mexico, AT&T funds a project called “Laboratoria”. This organization discovers talented women and helps them learn the skills they need to be successful in the business world, including teaching them web development and programming. The curriculum is comprehensive and connects graduates with companies that will likely hire them, including AT&T.

Other charities that AT&T is involved with include TECHO, a youth-led nonprofit focused on poverty-stricken areas in Latin America and the Carribean. AT&T’s funding of TECHO supports the building of pre-manufactured modular homes, made in two days with the participation of youth volunteers and families in the community. The collaborative aspects of TECHO’s approach help to further build trust amongst the volunteers and the communities they serve.

In 2016, AT&T philanthropy efforts granted $1.35 million to Télécoms Sans Frontières. Headquartered in Europe with sister stations in Bangkok and Nicaragua, they provide emergency telco service and support to first responders, victims and volunteers who are affected by natural disasters.

AT&T also supports Junior Achievement worldwide in Europe and Latin America, which awards students access to work experience program,s granting scholars the ability to join entrepreneurial programs that empower them to learn how to create their enterprise.

Uniquely, AT&T’s philanthropy efforts do not merely fund free giveaways. They have curated their philanthropy to focus on significant long-term solutions offering education and job readiness courses.

AT&T’s mission statement says, “Today, our mission is to connect people with their world, everywhere they live and work, and do it better than anyone else.” The firm belief of connecting everyone everywhere has enabled AT&T to support causes that cover every continent on the globe.

– Hector Cruz

Photo: Flickr

Women with Mobile PhonesMobile phones have impacted society in a way that few other innovations can claim to equal. The devices not only allow for efficient worldwide communication through text, voice or video but also come fitted with cameras, microphones, calculators, music, GPS and many other apps and gadgets.

Most importantly, mobile phones allow people to easily access the internet from almost any location. One of the largest impacts has occurred in the lives of women with mobile phones.

By checking the internet or downloading an application, many people in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia can help themselves rather than relying on inadequate public services. Apps and websites can provide those people services and education regarding water and proper sanitation, maternal and early life care, banking services, legal counseling, disease prevention and even new or improved farming methods.

Access to these types of information or services can make all the difference for a young, expecting mother or for a village with minimal water sources. In fact, some people believe mobile phones are one of the most effective tools in the fight against global poverty.

Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to mobile devices in developing countries. According to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), women are being left behind in gaining new types of technology. It is estimated that there are around 200 million more men than women with mobile phones in low and middle-income countries.

There are several reasons for this difference, but there are two main factors that contribute to that gap. The first is that there are social norms that prevent women from seeking and learning about technology. The second comes from women being less financially independent than men in developing countries. The lack of money prevents them from being able to seek out technology.

In order to reach gender equality, women must be empowered. In this case, empowerment comes through women with mobile phones, which is exactly what GSMA is working towards.

The GSMA is an organization that represents the interests of mobile operators around the world. Through the Connected Women Commitment (CWC), the GSMA attempts to reduce the gender gap in mobile services such as internet and mobile money access. The CWC works by having mobile operators make a commitment to improving their services for women by 2020.

Recently, the GSMA announced that nine new mobile operators signed the CWC, including several African operators. These nine will join the other eight companies that have already signed. The GSMA plans to continue gathering signatures in hopes of not only empowering women but of capturing an estimated $170 billion market opportunity that may come from doing so.

Empowering women through mobile phones and internet can have significant economic benefits, and spreading technological access should be an important and relevant goal for all nations.

Weston Northrop

Photo: Flickr