Author Archives: ftzahra

Making use of ICTs 4 Inclusive Education

By Fatima Tuz Zahra

Educational programs have begun to recognize the critical role it can play to enable those often having to cope at the margins. Yes, I am talking about ICTs for inclusive education with its ability to connect people across the boundaries of physical space and social stigmas disabled people often face. This blog post will review an article “Ghana Boosts ICT for Disabled” on website and talk about the promises ICTs hold for inclusive education.

Ghana to train 5000 PWD by 2013

In this article, the writer reports the approval by the Government of Ghana to train 5000 persons with Disability (PWDs) in employable skills in ICT. The program, a partnership between the Ministry of Education and rRL Communication Limited, will be an example of public-private co-operation. It will aim to empower PWD with sustainable employable skills such as mobile phones and computer assembling and repairs.

One of the overseers of the project, Deputy Minister of Information, Samual Okudzeto Ablakwa said that such a training program was critically important for the PWDs. He explained a lot of the traditional work PWDs relied on – basket and mat-weaving – had been taken over by technologies which left these marginalized people in an even more precarious position.

The report also stated that the government aimed to draw the 5000 PWDs from all parts of Ghana. The main focus is on educating them in employable skills using the benefits of ICTs a company like rRL Communication can provide.

Ghana and ICTs for PWD under UNESCO Mandate
The African nation has recently started several hi-profile projects aiming to enable PWDs using ICTs. These projects also organize a non-formal education program in sign language and digital communication for the hearing impaired, and provide ICT centers for them. This program comes in the wake of the country’s Vice President John Dramani Mahama’s initiative to support persons with disabilities with ICTs skills to support themselves.

These projects fit in nicely and are in large part an effect of UNESCO`s shared vision on ICTs.  All these aim to promote equal access to education and inclusion of the most vulnerable segments of society by means of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The program had some truly laudable successes, like Princess’ IT Project in Thailand, and forged partnerships with corporate giants such as Microsoft. These developments are sure to help the project grow and possibly affect some real changes for the extremely marginalized in societies of the Global South.

Inclusive eduction for children irrespective of race and abilities need to be ensured

Inclusive ICTs education and public-private partnership

ICTs education for PWDs or people with special needs basically aims at equipping the learners with skills to support their own lives. This can be seen as building capacities or extending capabilities in people who are not able to explore different avenues that are open to most other. Through ICTs education people with special needs become capable by themselves.

The girl named Toyeeba Soumair (Princess’ IT Project in Thailand) from Thailand had a very difficult time going to schools because she did not have her legs and arms. But now by using computers she has access to knowledge and can educate herself independently. ICTs give many others like Toyeeba power to choose and the power to be independent learners. For instance, digital communication allows mute people to communicate with others and facilitate their participation in society. ICTs therefore give access to resources and avenues to people with special needs that they did not have earlier.

Another important aspect of the projects discussed above is that they are not supported by the national governments but also international organizations like UNESCO. The public private partnership and the national and international collaboration imply that the future of inclusive education lies with ICTs.

The ICT industry (as Naoko’s entry shows) has also taken a note of participating in the field of inclusive education! The market for ICTs for inclusive education however is not as small as many think. There are 650 million people in the world who have special needs and 80% of these people live in the developing world. I will not be surprised if the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) leads the ICTs industry catering to inclusive education.

I know I am very optimistic this week. This is because I really find the ICTs initiatives around people with special needs extremely useful and promising. However I still find it problematic that people with special needs are called PWDs only because they function in a different way than most other people. Disability means lack of ability, to identify people with special needs as lacking something is clearly derogatory. I believe ICTs has the potential to enable people with special needs to the extent that they will not be marginalized as PWDs anymore. We are not far from a time when people with special needs will be functioning as most people. Am I daydreaming? I think I am not!

I would like to end with two of my favorite quotes:

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.” – Helen Keller

“From each according to his/her ability; to each, according to his/her need”- Karl Marx


Ghana Boosts ICT for Disabled. In BIZTECH AFRICA on Oct. 31, 2011:
Ghana to train Disabled in ICT. In Balancing Act: Telecoms, Internet and Broadcast in Africa on March 2, 2012:
Ministry of Education to provide ICT centres for people with disabilities in Modern Ghana on 14 June, 2009:
ICTs Education for People with Disabilities. In UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education:
‘IT for Disabled’ in Thai schools. In ICTs, Education and Entrepreneurship on Feb. 11, 2010
UNESCO launches a meeting report on accessible ICTs for students with disabilities. In ICT in Education, UNESCO, Bangkok:
Disabilities: What is it? In youthink!


Intel Teach and South-east Asia

by Fatima Tuz Zahra

From left to right: Intel’s teacher training, classroom PC and learning series tablet. Source:

Whatever the criticisms of corporate-social responsibilities (CSR) activities may be –such as accusations that the parent company announces projects only for tax benefits or good publicity – a handful of CSR projects have had long-term positive impacts. The Intel Teach Program is one of these real successes. As this report in Reuters news agency says: “Intel Teach has enabled 10 million teachers” and “reached more than 300 million students”.  Recent announcements of similar projects being initiated in South-east Asia evidence that Intel Teach must be understood as having an undeniable impact in formal education worldwide, and what future CSR projects can model themselves on.

10 million teachers; 300 million students

“Intel Celebrates 10 Million Teachers Trained”, a press release carried by Reuters News Agency on Sep 7, 2011, reports that the program had reached 10 million teachers trained in more than 70 countries, and by Intel’s estimates, reached 300 million students. The Intel Teach program is in its second decade of operations and aims is to train teachers to “effectively integrate technology into their lessons to promote problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration skills” in students, “areas called 21st century skills by educators”.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini says about the program: “We invest in teachers to that they inspire our students to be innovative, creative, and prepared with the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are imperative to our future.” The focus on using technology in the classroom to facilitate critical thinking and problem-solving skills have struck a rich vein as program reports show that students were more motivated and showed more in-depth understanding.

The program’s close collaborations with national, regional, and local education institutions and governments have been one of its mains strengths. In some places, this collaboration has made it the primary ICT training program in a country.  As an example the article cites the case of Jordan, where teachers must complete the program to be “eligible for promotion and a 15 percent pay increase”.

Intel, ICT education, and South-east Asia

South-east Asia provides a great example of the current focus on connecting ICT concerns and tools with education programs like Intel Teach. As the article “A “smarter” through ICT” from 2009 reports, the National Electronic and Computer Technology Center (Nectec), a private sector actor, has drafted a four year plan to make the country’s people and government smarter by increasing access and utilizations of ICT.

Similarly Metfone, a major private cell phone provider in the region, has signed MoUs committing to providing 2000 free internet connections to education institutions under the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth, and Sports. In Vietnam the Ministry of Education and Training has announced an e-learning initiative to “modernize Vietnam’s education system by 2011 and to provide opportunities for the country’s teachers and students.” And in the Philippines the Department of Education Internet Connectivity Program (DICP) has been running for several years and have utilized public sector and private sector actors to connect 4,497 public schools with central mandate that they “properly implement their computer class program as part of the curriculum.

Digital literacy and sustainability

ICT interventions in education across South-east Asian region are not simply limited to providing Internet connectivity and curriculum changes.  There is also attention to providing hardware, and funding for scholarships.  Intel has promised to facilitate Vietnam’s e-learning initiatives by providing “one million affordable PCs” (the program is called Education PC and will focus on providing sturdy tablets rather than computers) and training to teachers.

Metfone has also pledged two- year educational scholarships to Cambodian students to help them in their ICT education. Within this context, the Intel Teach program, which led the way towards a focus on digital literacies has had real impact. As Dr. Ermetes F. Adolfo, Jr., a member of the Philippines Department of education, says: “[Such programs] enable teachers to introduce, expand and support 21st century learning, including research and testimonials illustrating Intel Education’s commitment to high quality 21st century education for all.”

The face of literacy is taking new forms everyday with children and adults needing to use various media for performing different tasks. The new literacy practices only prove that literacy is fluid as it can be practiced across different media. Intel is a key player in helping to disseminate digital literacy in developing regions by training teachers in the modern forms of literacy. Their work in Vietnam and Cambodia will enable many children to learn digital literacy who may not be able to afford the education without the partnerships between their respective governments and Intel.

While the Intel educational projects seem perfect at the moment, questions can be asked about the sustainability of such programs. Little or no discussion took place on how to make these ICT literacy drives endure, if/when Intel stops funding them. Perhaps the governments will be responsible for carrying on with these programs, perhaps they will not. I hope the respective governments and beneficiaries of the Intel Teach program start planning for the future sustainability of such positive endeavors now.

P.S: Dear readers, although helping teachers and students in developing countries with computer literacy and training may be well accepted, educators and children from developed countries feel differently about ICTs in formal education. As they are already familiar with computers they sometimes feel that ICTs curricula are not teaching higher-level ICTs skills or making children lazy and dependent on ICTs. Naoko and Anna, two of our ICT4BOP bloggers will discuss these different perspectives on ICTs in formal education from the developed world this week.


Intel Celebrates 10 Million Teachers Trained in Reuters on Sept. 7, 2011:

Intel Teach Program homepage:

ICTs to revolutionize education system in Vietnam in ICTs, Education and Entrepreneurship on February 4, 2010:

Intel provides PCs on Intel Teach Program World wide:

DICP: Project to connect all schools in Philippines in League of Corporate Foundations:

Public schools urged to implement computer class program in Philippine Information Agency on January 19, 2012:

Cambodia schools connected Metfone and Viettel in Viettel Group on May 8, 2011:

“A smarter Thailand through ICT” on in ICT in Education of UNESCO Bangkok on May 8, 2009:

“Intel-teach Program Saves the Illiterates Not Only in the Philippines but Also in Other Asian Countries” in Yahoo! Voices on August 14, 2011:

Why are Telecenters not sustainable? Why is it important to learn from failures?

By Fatima Tuz Zahra

Telecenters are places where people can access computers, the Internet or other digital technologies. They are one of the major tools espoused by development workers and NGOs to provide information and education to rural and poorer areas. However for a variety of reasons Telecenters have not been sustainable without external funding. Most are short-lived enterprises that fail to forge long-term ties or participatory relationships with their local communities. This post will present the arguments made by “Telecenters are not “Sustainable”: Get Over it!” by Mike Gurstein and place it in the wider debates   about ICT failures in educational development to analyze the reasons and assumptions behind those failures and why they should be used as lessons.

Talking about failures. Source:

“Telecenters are not “Sustainable”: Get Over it!”

Mike Gurenstein, Executive Director of the Centre for Community Informatics Research, Development and Training, and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Community Informatics wrote this post from notes for a talk given in an ITU sponsored workshop on Telecentre sustainability in mid-2011. In this post Gurenstein makes the simple argument that the nagging from funders mostly government and major NGOS-  about how Telecenters have to be made sustainable is ill-directed. Gurenstein says that centers funded by market mechanisms do not really add value and facilitate the education process in the community.  Rather than serving a social benefit, they are more like Cybercafes that provide computer/ Internet access to primarily young men to fulfill various fantasies via more or less violent games and other such pursuits.”

For Gurenstein, Telecenters are setup to serve and add value to disadvantaged communities by providing easy Internet access to those who lack capital to compete in the open market. Therefore it is “deeply hypocritical” of the funders to ask them to be sustainable and, more so, if run along market logic (i.e. self-sustaining profit), the centers will never serve their intended purpose. However Gurenstein also admits that individual Telecenters are also at fault. They usually have poor knowledge of the practices and long-term needs of the local community. He concludes that the Telecenters’ must be embedded (“owned”) by local communities” to aid education.

The Debate over the Effectiveness of ICTs for Development and Education (ICT4D&E) Projects

The Gurenstein article is a good example of the debate going on between development practitioners over the effectiveness of ICT to solve problems of development. More and more development practitioners are pointing out that ICT4D&E projects need to be grown out of local needs and keep the longterm practical usefulness of projects in mind. Otherwise they risk being unsustainable and sometimes wastefully expensive. Kentaro Toyama echoes Gurenstien in his arguments: Modern technology can enhance learning in the classroom, but must be utilized only once the more exigent needs of improving teaching capacities and stronger administrations have been fulfilled.

The failures of Telecenters in so many rural areas and their fundamental lack of sustainability is simply one result of what Toyama has explained as the myth of scale.  This refers to the popular argument that simply bringing the Internet to poor areas will transform them or throwing enough money at a problem will solve it. Such proponents often ignore the basic fact that technology is a multiplier of human intent and capacity, it is not a substitute. ICTs for education therefore must primarily focus on the needs of the local community. Otherwise it may do more harm than benefit the ones in need. Lack of proper guidance on how to use telecenters to learn about health, business, ICT usage and so on thus resulted in their misuse.

It is important to realize that the failures of ICT4D&E projects can often be instructive and a springboard to spur innovation.” Recent initiatives, such as FAILfaire organized and run by MobileActive highlight failures of ICTs and assumptions behind bad projects to get insights into the reasons of failures and develop new successful ones. Additionally, websites such as ICTs in Education: someReality Videos’” and videos such as “Top 7 Reasons Why Most ICT4D Projects Fail, have become more common and foreground the fact that ICT is not the surefire solution to the complex problems of education or development.

Even mainstream platforms such as the New York Times have highlighted that mistakes are rarely discussed in organizations such as the World Bank. The World Bank has a 70% failure rate with their ICT4D projects on increasing universal access to education (for more on World Bank’s failure turn to Naoko’s article). This kind of prohibition on the part of large organizations often closes off avenues of learning from failure and limits innovation. One can ask if students can learn by making mistakes and from teachers’ feedback, why can’t the NGOs and international organizations spend some time learning from their failures?

Failures of telecenters have already taught us the importance of understanding the local context and custom better to sustain any educational development project. In today’s digitally connected globalized world a culture of sharing and talking about failures can help to avoid repeating past mistakes. To this end initiatives such as FAILfaire, and conversations initiated by experts such as Mike Gurenstein and Kentaro Toyama are certainly a step in the right direction.


Telecenters are not “Sustainable”: Get over it! In Gurstein’s Community Informatics on May 18, 2011:

Re-thinking Telecenters: A Community Informatics Approach in Gurstein’s Community Informatics on May 15, 2011:

The Journal of Community Informatics:

Can Technology End Poverty? In Boston Review, November/December 2010:

Response in Boston Review November/December 2010:

There Are No Technology Shortcuts to Good Education. In Education Technology Debate on January 11, 2011:

Nonprofits Review Technology Failures in the New York Times on August 16, 2010:

Top 7 Reasons Why Most ICT4D Projects fail:

Mobile Apps for Development: Focus on Content By Users, Not Just For Users in MobileActive on March 28, 2012,

Rip Van Winkle’s Surprise: Critical Perspectives on Mobiles in Development and Social Change on Sept. 28, 2009:

How to Fail in Mobiles for Development: MobileActive’s Definitive Guide to Failure in MobileActive on April 14, 2010:


ICTs in Education; Some Reality Videos in Wait…What? on March 21, 2012:

How (not) to develop ICT literacy in students? In World Bank Blog on ICT use in Education on April 6, 2012:

A Great Success: World Bank has a 70% failure rate with ICT4D projects to increase universal access in ICTWORKS:

Sim Sim Hamara: Sesame Street, Education, and Local Determinism in Pakistan

By Fatima Tuz Zahra

Non-formal education for children can come in a variety of forms now. The only limitation seems to be monetary: that is can parents – more so society in general – afford to give children these lessons outside the classroom? In this context, television continues to be the cheapest and most enduring form of non-formal education for children. This article will highlight the case of Sim Sim Hamara, the Pakistani version of the classic U.S. show Sesame Street, which began airing in Pakistan on December 2011, using a piece  in Time.

Source: Sesame Street in Pakistan, BBC.

A Classroom of Learning and Tolerance and No Schools in Sight

According to “Pakistan’s Sesame Street: Can Urdu Elmo Aid a Blighted Nation”, Sim Sim Hamara is directly connected to USAid and thus is a part of U.S. strategy to foster religious tolerance and fight against the commonly held conception of rampant Islamic extremism in Pakistan. However, the politics of the project pales in comparison to its exigency, which is that almost 60% of Pakistan’s school-age children cannot read, and nearly three decades of neglect have left the country’s educational system in a “parlous state”. As Faizaan Peerzada, a master puppeteer and one of the directors of the series makes clear: “People might have thought it was some kind of brainwashing project. But at the end of the day, all we are doing is teaching a child to count”

Using the Sesame Street model, Sim Sim Hamara utilizes “short skits, song segments, and celebrity appearances” to educate on matters of real world literacy, such as counting and basic reading.  Additionally the character of the heavily made up Muppet aunty who runs the dhaba – includes lessons on “manners, healthy eating, and safety.” The article also points out that what makes Sim Sim Hamara especially interesting is that it also argues for religious and communal tolerance by using “subtle creativity”, and women’s education through a 6-year old female Muppet, who is captain of the cricket team and is passionate about science and reading.

Hegemony vs. local determinism

The Sim Sim Hamara project is funded by USAid and therefore its objectives do reflect the U.S.’s stated goals for development in the region: increasing female education and decreasing Islamic extremism. Numerous articles have pointed out that the reason the U.S. is funding this program is probably to boost its own credibility in the country, which currently is quite low, and for the program to work as a sort of social-engineering tool that is a direct manifestation of soft-power or propaganda.

However, contrary to the charges of hegemony and machinations, the local staff working on the show report that their U.S. backers have been rather hands-off on the project. Rather than work under Sesame Street Workshop, the Sim Sim Hamara team has collaborated with the parent company to develop the content and lessons for the show. Sim Sim Hamara is based on careful research by local scholars, national seminars, as well as four provincial workshops that were organized to gather educational advisors from various fields and stakeholders in Pakistan’s education scenario.

Sim Sim Hamara is also notable because of its commitment to the multilingual reality of Pakistan. Over the four years of its operations, which have been funded by USAid, it will broadcast 78 episodes in Urdu, and 13 in Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushtun, and Balochi.

Ultimately, as Perzada makes clear in an interview on The Guardian, the goal of the show is to “…to prepare and inspire a child to go on the path of learning, and inspire the parents of the child to think that the child must be educated.” Taken at face value the goals are clear: to foster the capabilities and capacities of the children and – a point often avoided in the politics of children’s education – to teach the parents as well that education is an important tool for children.

In conclusion, Sim Sim Hamara seems to be a project that can genuinely affect the children of Pakistan. As evidenced by notable studies such as Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, the Sesame Street model and show have had a lot of success in educating and forming children in the U.S. and around the world. In the region there are local varieties of the show in India, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan; the first two have been operating with great success for over six years and have become independent programs, which no longer rely on donor funding. With luck Sim Sim Hamara will have the same success, and Rani and the gang will become Pakistan’s piyaara dostos for years to come.


Pakistan’s Sesame Street: Can an Urdu Elmo Aid a Blighted Nation? in Time Global Spin on Feb 20, 2012:

U.S. Bankrolls Pakistani Sesame Street Hoping It will “Increase Tolerance” in Fox News on Oct. 31, 2011:

Sesame Street for Pakistan, studying the effect of cocaine on birds’ sex lives, and Stonehenge for Pagan Air Force Cadets: Billions of federal dollars ‘wasted’ as U.S. debt explodes in Daily Mail on Dec. 23, 2011:

US Spends $20M on Pakistan Version of ‘Sesame Street’ to Help Fight Terrorism in The Christian Post on Nov. 1, 2011:

Sesame Street International: Pakistani Edition Of Iconic Kids’ Show Launched in the Huffington Post on Nov. 1, 2011:

Sim Sim Hamara: Sesame Street Comes to Pakistan in The Express Tribune Blog on Nov. 29, 2011:

Exclusive: A win-win with Sim Sim in on Dec. 11, 2011:

Pakistani Sesame Street Preaches Tolerance in on Oct. 31, 2011:

Educational TV serial for children from Dec 10 in on Dec. 2, 2011:

Sesame Workshop: Around the world:

Sesame Street goes to Pakistan in South Asia Investor Review on April 9, 2011:

Sesame Street comes to Pakistan in the Guardian on April 7, 2011:

Georgetown Early Learning Project:

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