Author Archives: anna7msomi

ICTs in US Schools: Stratified Access and Polarized Discourse

ICTs in US Schools: Stratified Access and Polarized Discourse

By: Anna Greenstone

In a blog about ICTs in low-income countries, you wouldn’t expect an entry focused on the US.  But in the field of education, many of us recognize that the growing gap between the rich and poor correlates with a gap in quality of schooling.   As ICTs are being incorporated into school programs, the capacities for different districts to
access, purchase and maintain technological resources varies greatly. And often, in under-resourced schools where new technology is scarce, students may also lack access to internet and educational technology in their homes.

A recent piece in the Huffington Post highlights this inequality, featuring an under-resourced school on Chicago’s SouthSide.  Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, is one of three schools housed within DuSable High school, where more than 1000 students share only 24 computers.   As the article further clarifies- the ratio of computer to students is not only horrendous, but insufficient funding for technology creates a digital divide beyond hardware.  “Now, the bar has been raised, as newer software programs require high-speed connections and as WiFi-dependent devices such as iPads make their way into classrooms” .

In the analysis that follows I would like you to keep the digital divide in mind, while I consider another issue.    For those kids who have access to internet and ICTs at home and school, many still face the stigma of being called lazy, or unable to maintain concentration because of incessant technology use.  Because ICTs come in so many different forms, from phones to tablets, to videos and media, kids are often using multiple sources at once.  They are perceived as lacking focus or grounding.  People who jump to these conclusions don’t always consider that skills like multi-tasking, decision-making, and coordination are being developed. This commonly held negative perception is another barrier to the expansion of ICT use in schools, and to re-thinking what we consider as valuable learning.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t! 

While it is clear that youth who don’t have access to ICTs are at a disadvantage to compete with 21st century skills, many parents, schools and policy makers stifle the potential for kids who could have access to be creative and innovative with digital and media technologies (Stevens 2006).  They still believe that too much technology will make their kids dumber, particularily online games and social media that is thought to erode social skills and intellectual growth.  The Notebook, an online publication that acts as a watchdog for the Philadelphia Public Schools, answered these naysayers with an interesting piece in 2011that highlights some of the skills that are developed through digital technologies.   There are also several projects that promote educational digital and media technology, including Digital Is, an initiative of the National Writing Project.

These mediums can be harnessed in classrooms, so that kids can create and program websites or blogs, learning through music and video in addition to traditional text.  Using digital media in student work can be done in small groups, incorporating project based learning models and building collaborative skills among learners.   Even the widely demonized video game, has been shown to improve hand-eye coordination, planning and problem solving skills.  Several open source websites like Gamestar, allow a place where youth don’t only play online games, but create them and share the products with each other.   This work involves logic, design, coding, and strategy.  The open-source nature of the website also nurtures a value for collective success and work—a skill becoming more and more popular in the working styles of leading companies like IBM and Google.

With all these awesome educational digital media initiatives you would think that everyone would get on board.  But I will reiterate that opinions on  the effects of technology on kids remain polarized, and many teachers and student do not support increased usage.  I will leave you with the words of a middle school student “Get Moving; Don’t Get Lazy on Technology”  This critique, oddly enough comes to us from a student journalism project called The Living Textbook, out of Unis Middle School in Michigan.  While the author warns against youth using technology and getting lazy, he has collaborated with his classmates to create an interactive blog, his writing has a global reach through the internet and he is participating in new digital literacy practices.  His opinion of course is his own, and is valid, but it may also be a reflection of the negative discourse that still surrounds kids using technology.  In Naoko’s post, she writes about British school children, tired of traditional computing education.  With all the potential for enjoyable learning through educational digital technologies, I would grow tired typing practice or learning how to print and save documents too!

What about the divide?

How does this relate to the digital divide?  You might be asking “Anna, why did you lead us on this random tangent, just to show us a series of cool educational websites?”  I see these realities as inter-related, and unfortunately, see  eduring skepticism about educational technologies to be yet another hindrance for poor kids in under-resourced schools to gain access.  School boards with stretched budgets might never choose to purchase new hardware, or expand broadband width, if they have more pressing needs and don’t perceive these tools as central to learning.  Our recognition of the myriad ways in which technology can enhance learning for youth lags behind the rapid technological advancements, themselves.  And even less promising, is our ability to tackle inequity in our schools.  As the discourse begins to change and technology enters more and more schools, can we also demand an end to the digital divide?

Sources:

http://goo.gl/leMzi   “Get Moving, Don’t Get Lazy on Technology” The Living Textbook, student Blog  2/07/2012

http://goo.gl/AZszo  “Education Technology: As Some Schools Plunge In Poor Schools Are Left Behind. ”  Huffington Post   1/25/2012

http://goo.gl/tli7t  Gamestar—Open Source gaming website

http://goo.gl/4FYOw  “Are Kids Really Getting Stupid? A plan of action”                   The Notebook  1/4/2011

http://goo.gl/yaicG  The Living Textbook.  Student Online Journalism project, Unis Middle School.

http://goo.gl/CVun1  Digital Is – A project of the National Writing Project

http://goo.gl/MORrU  National Writing Project

Stevens, L. P. (2006). Reconceptualizing adolescent literacy policy’s role: Productive ambiguity. In D. Alverman et al. Reconceptualizing the literacies in adolescent’s lives, (pp.297-309). NJ: Erlbaum.

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Internet, Under-water cables, and Infrastructure

 


By: Anna Greenstone

Alternative news sources have been following developments of the EASSy cable, damage and repairs over the last few weeks.  The under-water fibre-optic cables, owned by the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC), a conglomerate investment of 14 major telecom companies in Africa was laid in 2009.  The recent damage to it has affected more than six countries in the Eastern and Southern regions of the continent.  The cable connects countries along the East African coast to as far as the United Arab Emirates.  In February, a ship dragging its anchor along the bottom of the ocean, off the coast of Mombasa, Kenya snagged part of the cable, causing limited internet access for users across several nations.  All Things Considered, interviewed East African correspondent, Solomon Moore on 3/1/2012 sharing some of these developments with a broader audience.  Moore explained that while Africa is less “wired” than other regions of the world, as new businesses sprout up, episodes like these cause an unfortunate delay and inconvenience.

AllAfrica.com, covered a story more recently, on 3/27/12 which focused on persisting internet problems in Zimbabwe.    “Experts say Zimbabwe was hardest hit by the accident”, affecting internet speeds, and mobile phone users’ ability to add credit to their lines

http://goo.gl/9LxlC

How is Education wired in?

While much of the media following the fibre optic cable damage has focused on the burden to commerce and business, a sector becoming more and more reliant on tele-communications has been left out  of the headlines.  Schools around the world are increasing the use of internet and technologies for learning.   While ICTs play an important role in enhancing our experience of work, school, and communication, as we become more dependent on them, if damaged, it will have more detrimental, deeply felt affect.

It is important for investors and educators alike to be strategic in finding sustainable ways to use ICTs in schools, particularly in countries with inconsistent infrastructure, or governance in place.   Samsung Africa launched a pilot program last year in South Africa, with the goal of setting up solar powered computer schools.   BizTechAfrica.com covered the project, and quoted a Samsung business leader in East Africa who spoke of plans to replicate the project in other places, Kenya being the next targeted country.  The fact that these computer labs are powered by solar shows foresight by investors and designers, to not only consider more environmentally friendly ways of using technology in the classroom, but to be cognizant of the reality that electricity remains unreliable and inconsistent for much of this region.

While the damaged under-water EASSy cable certainly does not signify failure of ICTs in business or education, it presents a challenge to create more sustainable access to broadband, in addition to hardware and electricity.  What can countries do to limit cable damage?  Is stronger sea commerce regulation needed? Is the damage an expected risk for the fibre-optic cable industry?  If so, what quality control, or quicker response operations could be instituted so users are not inconvenienced for such long periods of repair?

Foresight and design become more crucial as ICTs and internet play more integral roles in classrooms, businesses and homes.

Sources:

BizTechAfrica 10/26/2011 “Samsung Africa launches solar-powered interned schools” http://goo.gl/03xdG

IT News Africa  2/28/2012  “Two East African undersea internet cables cut” http://goo.gl/9LxlC

AllAfrica.com  3/27/2012   “Zimbabwe Internet Problems Persist”  http://goo.gl/Z3SNe

NPR  3/1/2012 “Damaged Ocean Cable Cripples Interned in East Africa: http://goo.gl/XYpDr

ICTs and Prisons: Reflections on Technology and Injustice

By: Anna Greenstone

                      I initially found one, a little bit dated article for this topic—ICTs Training for Prisoners, but it interested me quite a lot and so I started searching for more recent and related media.  Unfortunately these were not easy to find… and my Internet perusing began to lose its focus.  As I looked through the most recent slew of TedTalks, I watched one given by lawyer Bryan Stevenson–an incredibly moving speech about the unjust prison system in the US.  And as I thought through his words, I began to recognize meaningful connections between his ideas and a blog entry about education for prisoners.

Briefly let me mention to pieces of media reviewing these initiatives in both East and West Africa before thinking more broadly about how they fit within the Stevenson video.   In a recent AllAfrica.com article by Chrispinious Wekesa, we learn about a promising initiative at Langata West Prison in Kenya, where inmates can now get a diploma in IT through Zetech College.  The slightly older piece from Ghana News Agency reports that the Ghanean Deputy Minister of Communications toured computer centers in several of the nation’s prisons.  He encouraged prisoners to learn ICTs, to help themselves successfully re-enter society.

In addition to shifting government policies, an important stakeholder in these changes seems to be African Prison Project who provide advocacy, legal, and other services to improve the lives of prisoners.

Lack of Media on ICTs for Prisoner Education in Africa

The topic of ICTs in prison education was not very well covered in the media.   As a novice media researcher I can only speculate to the reasons.  Perhaps the limited number of articles indicates there are only scattered projects of this kind; it is a limited initiative.  Perhaps the media continues to ignore more positive news and focus on more sensational items from the region: Somali pirates, famine or celebrity donors.  Although there is limited media coverage, I was happy to find it– to find some attention on positive news.  Its good that in developing countries that certainly struggle to provide basic public services,  efforts are being made toward prison reform.
Confronting Difficult Questions

Providing prisoners with not only basic education, but access to technology and skills that will help them better re-integrate into society, i.e. find employment, go back to school etc.  It is an important step in considering human rights and rehabilitation within the prison system and broader society.   But I also would like to consider points that Bryan Stevenson makes in his TedTalk.    As an attorney and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson’s main concern in this talk is helping his audience genuinely consider the implications of the US penal system on society, and its inherit unjust foundation and practices.

He does this through telling personal narratives and providing statistics and realities of the nation’s system that speak to its complete lack of humanity.   There are a couple of instances however, when he challenges our constant focus on other things, our look away from this painful injustice.  He specifically mentions technology and innovation.   Being that he is speaking to the Ted community which (rightly) celebrates innovation, he also challenges this community to look inward.   He asks that we confront the fact that Americans don’t like being uncomfortable, don’t like talking or more importantly dealing with racism, poverty or ways that we ignore injustice.  He notes that during or after the civil rights era, the US never went through a truth and reconciliation process, like South Africa for example, attempted.  Therefore, he challenges the value of creativity, innovation, and technology when we simultaneously ignore the suffering that many experience around us.

I think his insights are incredibly important in development work and would argue that the former colonizing and colonized countries never went through any sort of truth and reconciliation process either.  What’s more, neo-colonial practices perpetuated by the global north in some ways maintain global injustice.    It is too easy to get carried away with the fact that a new project or organization is helping the poor with ICTs, monitoring effectiveness with state of the art methods, or even using the latest technology in prison classrooms in African countries.  And those are good goals to strive for in public or non-profit educational work.  But Stevenson challenges—how can we be present to the injustice that grows or maintains a prison system, poverty, or racism?  What do we turn a blind eye to everyday?  I urge us to consider these questions always, particularly when we get carried away with innovation, technology, or development work and forget the real ‘why’ behind it.

Sources: 

http://goo.gl/iUlg8  “Kenya: Prisoners Get Diplomas from Zetech College” AllAfrica  2/15/2012

http://goo.gl/uo80y  “Prisoners asked to use time in prison to learn ICT” Ghana News Agency 8/2011

http://goo.gl/JZTkQ  Link to Bryan Stevenson TedTalk

http://www.eji.org/eji/  Equal Justice Initiative

http://goo.gl/q19jW   Africa Prison Project

Apple and FoxConn; a Wave of Dialogue

By: Anna Greenstone

Mike Daisey and his iPad. Source: http://linked.jp/q42c

Recently Apple has been in the news a lot, but unfortunately not for the legacy of Steve Jobs or the newest iPhone model.  Media outlets are instead recognizing the company and its sub- contractor, Foxconn for maltreatment of its Chinese labor force.  In January Mike Daisey, a comedian and self described Mac user, was featured in This American Life episode 454 where he, as a curious consumer decides to visit the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen, China, interview workers and try to get a better understanding of how these products are really made.

Since then several other news outlets have covered this topic from NPR’s Tell Me More broadcast on February 7, to alternative websites like Grist, a site focused on green news, which posted an editorial piece called From Earth to Apple: Think Different about Profits.  The article advocates not only for better labor laws but also for updated environmental standards in the development and manufacturing stages of Apple materials.   As Apple products certainly lead in producing high quality ICTs, our blog is concerned!

ICTs and Employment in China

Countries in the global north are prominent consumers of Apple products and other technological gadgets we lovingly call ICTs.  While Apple and other Western owned corporations continue to design and profit from their increasingly popular products much of the manufacturing and assembly occurs abroad.  Many Americans know electronics are ‘Made in China’, but fewer know the details of how this manufacturing takes place, or the conditions in which these workers create the products.  Shenzhen is a city in China, which has really sprouted, some would say artificially, as a center for these companies.  Foxconn, a sub-contractor of Apple, manages its operations within this context, and has taken much of the heat in recent months, as the spotlight shines on the labor conditions of their facility.  In the flood of press, some investigative reports have recently visited Foxconn to bring us the “inside story”.   Bill Weir, who’s report was featured on ABC on February 20th aims to expose the viewer to the reality of living and working conditions for these employees.   The video, entitled A Trip to The iFactory: ‘Nightline’ Gets an Unprecedented Glimpse Inside Apple’s Chinese Core is linked below this image.

Neo-liberal arguments for economic development

In studying international development it quickly becomes clear that neo-liberal economists, through institutions like The World Bank, still maintain hegemony over policy decisions and options for economic growth in the global south.  Their ideology is based on the notion that a capitalist free-market will always bring about the best products and outcomes, because companies do their best work, competing for the choice of consumers.  But in reality there are endless examples of companies, which put profits first at the expense of consumers, their workers, and the environment.  The focus on profits usually undermines any concerns that third world economies “compete” from extremely inequitable and exploited positions.  Most economists would argue poor countries are poor because they lack innovation, or the work ethic that successful economies have flourished from.   The road to success is based on the notion of meritocracy—those who work hard get rich—and they deserve that wealth.  Their profits are a medal of their success, and always serve the best interest of the whole economy.  So how about the laborers in developing countries?  A common neo-liberal argument is that workers are happy to have any job, even one in sweatshop-like conditions—it’s a better alternative than the poverty they would experience without that industry and the jobs it brings.   There is some truth to this statement, shown in the Bill Weir video, where hundreds of people have traveled long distances to reach Shenzhen and wait, eager for a job at Foxconn.

I am coming to terms with the fact that my initial questions often come from perhaps a naïve place, and from my slightly socialist-leaning perspective.  But I am certainly not alone in asking these questions.  In fact all of the media pieces featured above bring related issues to the table.  What is the human cost of Apple profits?  Why do corporations claim they cannot absorb more production and labor costs while they make record profits?  As the Grit editorial notes, Apple’s assets have recently climbed to a mind-boggling $100 billion.  Compare this to the costs of labor for IPhones, which make up only 2% of the equation.  What role should corporations play in creating dignified working conditions?  If we break down the numbers, we know that at least in Apple’s case they have the capacity invest in better labor conditions.  The question is, are they willing?

The Power of Media and Public Shaming 

Most recently in following these developments we see that a critical mass of consumers can act as whistleblowers and can hold even powerful companies accountable.  Ironically, we know that consumers have proliferating access to information about labor conditions in our globalized world, often finding this information through the very ICT products that are made in these oppressive factories.  The NY times recently reported that Foxconn has decided to raise worker wages and reduce over-time hours.  Will the consumers absorb this cost of the change or the corporation?  Companies are making concessions but arguably still acting out of self- interest to protect their profits—does this matter?   How can more equitable business practices play a role in international development and the expansion of ICTs?

As dialogue circulates on labor practices in China, we are not only seeing effects of the ICTs industry on employment, but witnessing a kind of informal education.  As we read articles and blogs, discuss the ethics of business practices and consider global economic power dynamics, we are not only following media, but educating ourselves to be critically engaged consumers and citizens.

 

 

Sources

NPR  Tell Me More from 2/7/2012. http://linked.jp/q6yY

Foxconn company website. http://goo.gl/ocmXC

This American Life podcast  “Mike Daisey’s trip to Shenzhen”. http://goo.gl/ySK14

NY Times “Pressure, Chinese and Foreign, drives change at Foxconn. 2/19/2012 http://linked.jp/q42e

Grist commentary “Earth to Apple, Think Different about Profits 3/12/2012. http://goo.gl/p4VLE

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