School in the Cloud Takes Flight
“The role of a granny in a family is . . . [to be] uncritical and . . . encouraging,” said Jackie Barrow (in a video), a volunteer with the e-monitor service Granny Cloud. From her home in Diggle (England), Barrow uses Skype to talk to children thousands of miles away in India. The program is a component of the global “School in the Cloud,” created by the educational technology professor, Sugata Mitra.

In 1999, Mitra was teaching computer programming in New Delhi, India. From his classroom window, he noticed children from a slum playing in the street. As an experiment, he carved out a hole in the school’s wall and installed a computer monitor. Several weeks later, he returned and queried the street children about the computer. Much to his surprise, they answered him in English, a language they’d learned from the internet.

Over the following decade, Mitra repeated this hole-in-the-wall model in several locations throughout India with great success. Mitra believes that if you provide children with internet technology, their curiosity and wonder will propel them to teach themselves. Over time, he recognized children performed better if an adult figuratively looked over their shoulder and praised them. He compared this guidance to a grandmother who gives loving, non-judgmental admiration. It also helped if the grandmother archetype spoke English, the language of the web. So he enlisted an army of British volunteers through the Granny Cloud.

In 2013, Mitra won a U.S. $1 million TED prize, allowing him to expand his School in the Cloud to Asia and Africa. According to Mitra, the encouragement, not the criticism, is the key to his “self-organized” learning approach.

Mitra believes modern schools are modeled on the principles of the British Empire to uniformly educate people when they are placed around the globe to perform similar tasks. That construct is outdated in today’s world where informational speed, creative thinking and innovation are paramount.

A cornerstone of the Victorian school model is instruction by fear. Testing, a threat of failure and punishment can trigger panic in the human brain. Sensing fear and attack, kids’ cognitive thinking may lockdown when they go into a flight-or-fight response.

The ideology of School in the Cloud propels children forward by tapping into their natural curiosity. The key is to advise adults to step back and leave students alone with technology to answer open-ended questions, such as “Can you kill a goat by staring at it?”

Mitra is not without his critics. Larry Cuban, Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University, skeptically refers to Mitra’s approach as “magical thinking.” He claims increased technology in education produces tepid results. In the One Laptop Per Child project in Peru, there was no increase in math or language skills and small benefits in cognitive thinking.

An online learning expert, Donald Clark, goes further. Clark outlines seven problems with Mitra’s work in his blog, “Plan B.” His criticisms include lack of objective, quantitative analysis of results, a coziness with e-learning benefactors and theft of monitors.

Supporters of the School in the Cloud point to Mitra’s outreach to unprivileged children in remote corners of the world where no schooling exists. And there is something to be said for the rapport that Jackie Barrow and the granny army are building with their students. Barrow often opens her e-mentoring sessions with jokes, stories or pictures of English gardens.

“You can’t catch me!” she reads from the Gingerman fairy tale.

“You can’t catch me!” her children repeat with delight and enthusiasm.

“Well done! Very good!” Barrow croons. Indeed, the children’s happiness transcends across the long distance connection.

Sue Anger

Photo: Flickr

Massive open online Courses
The New York Times declared 2012 the year of the MOOC – massive open online courses. They have made a huge splash since then. Organizations like EdX and Coursera have spread knowledge online to millions across the world. Where are these online courses most common? The developing world.

Both Coursera and EdX are based in the United States, but are more popular in places like China, Rwanda and Brazil. A lot of the popularity in the idea of MOOCs is their ability to reach everyone, especially those that might not have access to the knowledge and content divulged by the online courses.

Interestingly, MOOCs have only recently jumped on the radar of policymakers in governments of low-income countries. Electrical engineering professor in El Salvador, Carlos Martinez, took an electrical circuits class on EdX and thought it was so good that he began an adventure around El Salvador advocating for MOOCs.

Why did he have to advocate? Because his own university did not support his ideas about the online courses. After his journey, he enrolled 50 of his electrical engineering students and ran the class ad hoc, without grades or official assignments, with an experiment in a hallway every week instead of a proper lab.

There have even been reports of the developing world being “MOOCed out,”that they were not effective and that very few individuals who began a course online actually completed it. However, if utilized correctly, MOOCs can be a powerful tool for education in the developing world.

Martinez explained the best benefits of MOOCs —“I want to let the new ideas in, raise the bar and change the curriculum.”

This is exactly what MOOCs can be used for. While the online courses are valuable opportunities for individual learners, they are even more useful when utilized in small groups of informal learners to supplement already existing education, according to Martinez. More and more, users of MOOCs in other countries are creating a new education model by “combining screen time with face time.” By mixing the two, small groups of informal learners foster a learning environment through sharing of ideas with peers and mentors. It gives learners a taste of education from the first world.

A perfect example of the power of MOOCs used in a group is Kepler University to supplement formal university education in a group setting in Rwanda. They hope that their blend of MOOCs and lecture-style courses can make an impact on the education of potential undiscovered talents.

One of the huge advantages of MOOCs is that they level the playing field. They bring elite education to anyone with Internet access. With the growing spread of the Internet, more and more will have access to the great wealth of online courses.

— Greg Baker

Sources: Slate, New York Times, World Bank, Technology Review, Al Jazeera, The Verge

It has been 15 years since Bill and Melinda Gates started the Gates Foundation, and the couple has made a big bet for the next decade-and-a-half: the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than any other time in history.

The Gates’ annual letter was released on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, on the foundation’s blog. The Gates’ are focusing on wiping out diseases, reducing poverty, and improving education. The letter is broken down into four sub-categories of the overall “bet.”

Child Deaths Will Be Cut In Half

The leading cause of death for children under 5 is disease. Unsanitary living conditions and a lack of vaccines kill one in 20 children, and the Gates hope to see a decrease by at least 50 percent by 2030. All countries will add vaccines for pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and measles to their individual immunization programs. Better sanitation will also contribute to the decrease in disease. In addition to providing vaccinations, the Gates Foundation plans to help mothers adopt new practices, such as proper breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact with newborns.

Africa Will Be Able to Feed Itself

Although seven out of 10 people in sub-Saharan Africa are farmers, many farms do not yield the benefits of their counterparts in the developed world. Many parts of Africa currently rely on food aid and imports from outside sources to feed their people. Innovations in farming can provide farmers with better fertilizers and a surplus in crops, allowing farmers to farm more food. As technology expands and becomes more easily available, communications with farmers in remote areas will become possible and business will increase. In the next 15 years, Africa will be able to export more than it receives in imports, creating a balanced economy.

Mobile Banking Will Transform Banking

Digital banking can give the poor easy access and control of their assets. Approximately 2.5 billion people don’t have access to cheap and easy financial services, and for many people, their savings is in the form of jewelry or livestock; it is very difficult to cover daily expenses. To be able to use a mobile phone to take care of finances makes it much easier to purchase and save money. Mobile banking is expected to expand and cover a wide range of financial services, such as interest-bearing savings accounts to credit and insurance.

Online Education

Smartphones and software will become more available to African families that can provide more access to education. In remote areas where schools are hours away or students must be of a certain age to attend, it is essential to provide education as early as possible. As more children are exposed to education earlier in life, they are set down a path that leads to success in all areas of life. Online education can be crucial in countries where gender gaps are wide and girls can’t go to school or start a business. Countries that stay behind in education will eventually be left behind.

Alaina Grote

Sources: CNN, NPR, Youtube
Photo: Computer Business Review

Facebook plans to bridge the digital divide by connecting the remaining two-thirds of the world without Internet to the growing web of information. As a leader in this “knowledge economy,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg partnered with other industry giants to provide access to those who cannot afford it.

He continues to collaborate with leading companies in the technology field: Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung. These prominent members formed to offer connectivity to more than five billion people. In developing countries, his initiative aims provide the following:

More affordable access

Collaborative efforts between industry titans, such as Samsung and Nokia, will expand mobile access. To decrease the cost of delivering data, companies seek to develop low-cost smartphones and partner with internet providers to broaden the reach.

More efficient use of data

Global partners also plan to invest in products to limit the necessary amount of data. Along with “data compression tools,” these products may offer the enhancement of network capabilities and mobile frameworks designed to reduce the data use of applications.

Assist businesses in increasing access

These companies plan to incentivize the development and manufacturing of affordable devices for developing countries. The partnerships also aim to “localize services,” offering more languages on mobile devices.

Education Online: SocialEDU

Internet access alone cannot address underlying issues in developing nations. Zuckerberg, as a result, will apply to education inequities.

Referred to as SocialEDU, this program offers open online courses to students through a mobile application integrated with Facebook.

With a Facebook account, young Rwandans could learn from professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Facebook prepares to combat the digital and educational barriers these students face and expand online education in Rwanda.

This social media platform partnered with “the Rwandan government, a telecom company, a device manufacturer and an educational content provider.” Such collaboration allows the for the following:

  •  Free content and data
  •  A supportive government
  •  Low-cost smartphones
  •  Innovative education on a local level

For one year, Airtel plans to provide the education content at no cost to participants.

Christian de Faria, the CEO of Airtel Africa, understands education drives social and economic growth. As a local carrier, Airtel will fuel this growth by offering a data subsidy.

Nokia has also joined this corporate collaboration, offering affordable smartphones to the region. This improves access to the Internet, enabling more students to join the open online classes.

The Nokia Vice President of Mobile Phones, Timo Toikkanen notes“Our affordable smartphones help people make the transition from simple mobility to more sophisticated experiences. Playing a role in helping students get access to these experiences, such as social education through the SocialEDU initiative, is truly an honor.”

To promote further corporate innovation, the Rwandan government offers:

  • Trade-in rebates
  • Interest rate subsidies
  • Micro-loan guarantees
  • Targeted use of its Universal Service Fund

In support of corporate social responsibility, the government plans to expand its Smart Kigali program. This offers free wi-fi on college campuses and as a result, more students can access the multi-media SocialEDU content. The government will further support this initiative by adapting course materials to the needs of local students.

These educational apps require a large amount of bandwidth. To combat this, Facebook promises to provide technical assistance and support the app in a low-bandwidth region. Partnering with Ericsson, the company must test the app capabilities in a 2G environment.

Tailoring services to meet the needs of regions across the globe is but one part of the equation. Through such innovation and corporate cooperation, the digital divide gradually closes. With the expansion of online education in Rwanda, Facebook and its global partners will propel the country into a knowledge-based economy.

Ellery Spahr

Sources: The Verge
Photo: PCI Podium

The Global Poverty Project was founded by Ananya Roy, a professor of city and regional planning at Berkeley, Tara Graham, an International and Area Studies lecturer and digital-media expert and Abby VanMuijen, an artist with the goal of spreading the curriculum of Berkeley University’s most popular minor, Global Poverty and Practice. The three UCal alumni are utilizing digital media and twitter to create a multilayered broadly accessible curriculum that they call critical thinking + improv art + new media. This creative curriculum is being used to spread knowledge about global poverty beyond the classroom.

The project is a new approach to the traditional online education that is sweeping the world. While the traditional method of online education tends to simply stick a video recorder in a classroom, the Global Poverty Project seeks to create numerous forms of media and material for students to utilize as a whole or in parts. Eventually there will be a text book that utilizes matrix barcode technology that will link to other related information. Each video that is posted also links to useful sites and information. By generating discussions on Twitter, Roy’s classroom, already full with 600 pupils, has expanded, potentially exponentially, and has become a place where students, people on campus and anyone in the world can exchange ideas.

More than creating a groundbreaking approach to online education, Roy, Graham, and VaMuijen are looking to create new and interesting internet videos that spark discussion and critical thinking.“Most of them, I think, are really patronizing and oversimplify the very complex aspects of poverty action. They’re a call to action, but they don’t necessarily explore all the political and ethical issues that smart young people know are at stake,” said Roy about most internet videos that attempt to address poverty.

Each video starts with a question and offers a scholarly argument for a way of thinking about it. VanMuijen then takes video to a whole other level with visual note-taking and creates the videos. Like the minor itself, the videos are framed to encourage thinking about solutions to poverty that steer clear of what Roy sees as two extremes: “The hubris of benevolence, young Americans thinking ‘I’m going to solve poverty during my alternative spring break,’ and the paralysis of cynicism, which we have a lot of at Berkeley, really smart kids who know how to critique everything in the world but they’re not really sure what to do after that critique.” Later, the project, new media, curriculum, and critical thinking about global poverty come together. While Roy lectures, the Twitter feed is projected behind her in the classroom and the videos are being played and igniting discussion all over the world.

– Kira Maixner

Source: UC Berkeley News Center