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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

The DIY Oral Rehydration KitThe incidence of gastric problems, such as vomiting or diarrhea, is all too common in developing countries. To make matters worse, there is also the dehydration that results from fluid loss. The practice of handwashing with soap and stricter guidelines for food hygiene are paramount as preventive measures. Nevertheless, these practices may not always take place, and gastric diseases can spread. The DIY oral rehydration kit is a practical means to remedy dehydration, as it uses basic, easy to find ingredients.

A persistent bout of vomiting and diarrhea leads to fluid loss at a higher rate than the body can take in. Without adequate fluids, the body cannot properly carry out crucial functions. Water is needed to regulate temperature, dissolve nutrients from food, transport them around the body for cells to stay alive and reduce the burden on kidneys by flushing out waste.

Dehydration is particularly hazardous to children and the elderly. Young children are vulnerable to dehydration because their bodies are less efficient at conserving water than adults. In addition, their small body size means it takes less fluid loss to lead to dehydration.

Dehydration triggers a response to consume a large quantity of water. This can create an imbalance by flushing out vital chemicals and electrolytes, such as glucose, fructose, sodium and chloride. These play a crucial role in the transmission of nerve impulses and in regulating the body’s fluid balance.

The ideal concoction already exists in the form of a sports drink, such as Gatorade. The DIY oral rehydration kit is cheaper and simple but equally as effective, as it uses salt and sugar, which are more widely available. For each serving, six teaspoons of sugar and half a teaspoon of salt are mixed into one liter of water. This kit eliminates side effects from caffeinated beverages, which cause further dehydration. Juices made from orange or lemon can be acidic and further aggravate the stomach.

In the 1960s, researchers in South Asia found that a balanced proportion of sugar and salt in water could be easily absorbed through the intestinal wall. Therefore, drinking this solution is an easy way to replace fluids lost from diarrhea. In 1971, a massive campaign to orally administer this solution to sufferers was implemented throughout India and Bangladesh during a cholera outbreak. Of the 3,700 treated sufferers, 96 percent of them survived after drinking the oral rehydration solution.

The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee has provided workshops to educate Bangladeshi mothers on how to mix the solution and administer it to their children to prevent dehydration when a child falls ill with diarrhea.

With the support of UNICEF, over 500 million packets containing the ingredients of the DIY oral rehydration kit are being mass produced annually in 60 developing nations, at a cost of $0.10 each. Millions suffer daily from gastric problems and the resulting dehydration. Nearly half of all diarrhea cases in developing nations are now treated with oral rehydration therapy, compared to the initial 1 percent usage in the 1980s. Because it is more accessible, millions of lives are saved daily thanks to this kit.

– Awad Bin-Jawed

Photo: Flickr

Waste-to-Energy in Ethiopia Increasing Electricity and Decreasing WasteIn Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, a landfill the size of 36 soccer fields is being turned into renewable energy, meeting the needs of 30 percent of the city’s electricity. The landfill, previously the only waste disposal site in Addis Ababa, made the news in 2017 due to an onsite landslide that killed 114 people. The new energy plant, known as Reppie Waste-to-Energy in Ethiopia, plans to turn 80 percent of the city’s waste into energy each day.

Waste is turned into energy through incineration, a process already popular in many European countries. About 25 percent of European waste is turned into energy and there are over 100 waste-to-energy plants in both France and Germany. Strict European Union emissions standards ensure that no harmful emissions from the incineration process enter the atmosphere, standards that the Reppie project will be held to as well.

Electricity is produced directly from the burning of waste. As garbage is burned in a combustion chamber, heat is produced. The heat boils water, creating steam, which in turn produces energy in a turbine. The emissions that occur in this process are cleaned before they enter the atmosphere, making this a renewable and sustainable source of clean energy.

The Reppie facility came into development out of a partnership between the government of Ethiopia and several international partners, including Chinese and Danish companies. This partnership came together to tailor the needs of the new energy plant to sub-Saharan Africa, as opposed to the waste-to-energy plants already operating in Europe.

The Ethiopian project further protects the environment and its citizens from harmful toxins that are released into groundwater supplies and the atmosphere at landfill sites. Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that adds to the negative effects of climate change and is typically produced at landfill sites; this project will reduce methane emissions, as well as save space and generate electricity.

In addition to providing energy to three million people, the Reppie project plans to make an additional three million bricks from the waste and recover 30 million liters of water from the landfill. These materials will be additionally used to benefit the population of Addis Ababa. Furthermore, the plant will create hundreds of jobs for people who previously relied on scavenging at the waste site, a dangerous occupation.

In Ethiopia, only 27 percent of the population has access to electricity. While that number includes rural areas, in only urban areas such as Addis Ababa, the number rises to almost 92 percent. However, the Reppie plant is connected to the national grid and the introduction of waste-to-energy in Ethiopia will spread from urban areas and be able to serve rural areas as well, increasing access to electricity to all Ethiopians.

The Reppie Waste-to-Energy in Ethiopia will aid in reducing poverty conditions through increasing access to electricity, creating jobs and improving the environment to the benefit of human health. The plant will additionally be a model for similar plants across the continent of Africa. Already, seven other plants are being planned. These plants together will leave a lasting positive impact on both the environment and the energy needs of people across the continent.

– Hayley Herzog

Photo: Flickr

New Database to Combat Biopiracy in India
Traditional medicinal plant knowledge from people living in developing countries is often exploited by companies from developed countries who forage for plants with novel medication applications. To improve this situation, a new database will combat biopiracy in India so as to better protect traditional knowledge from misappropriation by foreigners.

What is Biopiracy?

Biopiracy is when drug manufacturers profit from traditional tribal knowledge without compensating the tribe for their knowledge. This robbery of intellectual knowledge deprives the tribe of the modern medications that are a direct result of their knowledge base, and it also deprives tribes of any form of compensation for the use of knowledge to produce new medical products.

Issues with Compensation

The major issue of biopiracy in India is that the tribe that initially discovers the medical application of plants in their region is not compensated for their knowledge; meanwhile, Western drug companies profit from the medical application of the plants. One of the main reasons it is so difficult to combat biopiracy is because patent inspection offices do not often have access to the knowledge of traditional healing practices in developing countries. To address this problem, the database to combat biopiracy in India contains translations of texts written in traditional languages about traditional healing methods.

Turmeric Exploitation

One example of such exploitation is the medical applications of the spice turmeric. Traditional Indian healers recently needed to prove in court that turmeric has been used since time immemorial for healing, and that the patent about using turmeric was not a novel medical application. The database to combat biopiracy in India will ensure that traditional knowledge is neither misappropriated by bioprospectors or misused because the researcher studying the plants was unaware of that the plant was already used by traditional healers as a medicine.

Traditional Knowledge Digital Library

The database to combat biopiracy in India is called the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TDKL), and this program solves language issues that make it challenging to eradicate biopiracy. Since traditional knowledge in India is written in numerous languages indecipherable to modern patent inspectors, many patents are granted plants that are already used in India.

By translating these texts and putting them in a database easy for patent officers to search, the TDKL has helped protect traditional knowledge in India and ensure such knowledge does not get usurped from biopiracy.

Preventing Foreign Misappropriation

Biopiracy can also happen in the production of food. A company in America tried to get a patent and trademark to gain a monopoly on the term ‘basmati rice.’ Basmati rice is a food staple grown in India and a major aspect of India’s heritage.

Since biopiracy is the attempt to use the legal methods available in developed countries, patent and trademark offices, to usurp the intellectual property of people who live in developing countries, traditional knowledge passed down usually by oral traditions are at risk for natives in developing countries.

– Michael Israel

Photo: Flickr

Indian farmers use AIIndia is an agrarian economy and over 58 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. With the recent help of tech giant Microsoft, Indian farmers have begun to use AI to increase efficiency, further encouraging them to harvest a good crop.

Every year since 2013, more than 12,000 suicides have been reported in the agricultural sector with 10 percent accounting for farmer suicides. Collectively, seven states (Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Naidu) accounted for 87.5 percent of the total suicides in the farming sector. Additionally, the reasons for farmers’ suicides have varied widely including high input costs, low yields, disintegration with markets, mounting loans, water crisis and urban consumer-driven economic policies.

In partnership with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Microsoft developed an AI-sowing app. With the app, Indian farmers use AI to increase their agricultural income, giving them greater price control over their crop yields.

On his two-day visit to India in 2017, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlighted the benefits of AI in agriculture. In an interaction with Microsoft engineers in India, Nadella said, “Taking AI to the oldest industry on our planet, agriculture, is something we have already been doing in collaboration with local stakeholders like ICRISAT, which just at a little distance away from the campus. If you can increase the yield [with the help of AI] in agriculture, the kind of impact it will have on economies like India will be huge.”

The beta version of the new sowing application was tested in June 2016 in Kurnool district of the Indian state Andhra Pradesh and was applied only to the groundnut crop. The results showed a 30 percent higher average in yield per hectare. The pilot also confirmed that the advisories received through the app via SMS were relevant and accurate. The sowing app provides the best times to sow depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators, relieving Indian farmers from inaccurate forecasts.

The app relies on business intelligence tools that give clear insights on the soil health, fertilizer recommendations and seven-day weather forecasts powered by the world’s best available weather observation systems and global forecast models.  So far, Indian farmers use AI-powered apps in a few dozen villages in Telangana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Powered by Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite, the app provides updates to Indian farmers. Indian farmers use AI for sowing recommendation, seed treatment, optimum sowing depth, preventive weed management, land preparation, farmyard manure application, recommendation on harvesting, shade drying of harvested pods and storage. The SMSs can also be delivered in regional languages like Telugu and Kannada. Through a basic phone capable of receiving text messages, farmers can use AI with no capital expenditure.

Microsoft’s next collaboration could help farmers fight pest risk. In collaboration with India’s largest producer of agrochemicals, United Phosphorous (UPL), Microsoft aims at leveraging AI and machine learning to calculate the risk of pest attack.

But interestingly, Indian farmers are not oblivious to digital farming. In the past, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Innovation Labs introduced mKrishi, which allowed farmers to receive advice on pest information, crop prices, weather conditions and more in their local languages.

Tech innovations and partnerships like that of Microsoft and TCS could help Indian farmers with information that is more data-driven and based on pure analytics. Whether such efforts lower the suicidal rates of Indian farmers or not is yet to be seen. But if the results are positive, it will be a boon to many agriculturally reliant Indian households that have faced huge losses.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Flickr