Author Archives: Nao

How ICTs can be accessible for us all?

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

 

Nowadays, touch screen technology has been rapidly applied into tablets and smartphones.  Steve Jobs took pride in his beautiful screen of the iPhone. However, this fine looking and mirror surface like screen can be a barrier for those who are visually impaired. This time, we, ICTs for BOP bloggers are exploring the efforts to connect people to people regardless of people’s condition, say for example if your friend is not fully-sighted.

Brailletouch: the eye-free way of messaging

BBC reports that a new application helps visually impaired people to send text using touchscreen mobile device, regardless of whether the operating system of your phone is iOS or Android. Although even now eye-free technology such as apple’s Voiceover, which help people to access iOS devices based on spoken guidance, has already been in use, but experts says it is “too slow to be used effectively”.

The new technology is called “Brailletouch” because it is based on the Braille writing system. Brailletouch adapts a system that is controlled with six fingers and, most importantly, users do not need to move hands while they are texting. The inventor says “it’s not like the Qwerty keyboard where you move up and down. That’s why this thing works– we can get away with only six keys”

You can see how “Brailletouch” works from here.

Mr. Romero, one of the members of the Georgia Tech, points out that there is a growing concern among the visually impaired community that the recent market preference for touchscreen makes them “truly blind”. Now a lot of touch screen devices surround us such as copying machines to machines at the gym that use touch screens for settings and controls. Therefore, Mr. Romero wants to ensure this “eye-free kit” becomes widespread. He explains “Brailletouch” can also be useful for fully sighted people who want to text with being free from focusing on screen while they’re typing they can be looking at something else.

What is needed for “ICTs for all”?

What I appreciate in BBC’s article is that Mr. Romero considers Brailletouch not only for the blind but also for everyone. Because if the application or software only targets  for the people with disabilities or special needs, we  may marginalize them as “disabled” from a deficit perspective. For example, if the number of users for these software, applications and hardware are limited, the product will likely be high cost, which may limit the accessibility. Moreover, the frequency of software updates may suffer from the small market, compared with products for the majority—that is, the benefit from technological advancement would be limited to some extent by lower demand. In addition, as we can see in One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) case, inventing products based on non-profit models may face the issue of sustainability, because compared with for-profit products, developing not-for-profit products are more likely to face financial problems, and may force the developers to hard work with low payment. Therefore, the idea from Mr. Romero and the Georgia Tech is crucial as it tries go to beyond the boundaries of rigid categories like full-sighted or visually impaired.  Of course it is true that different people have different needs, so it is almost impossible to invent applications or software that works for everyone. However, this does not necessarily mean that working for universal access for ICTs is meaningless.

And, more importantly, affecting change in ICTs development should not be coming from top-down or one-sided groups. It is not clear whether or not the team of the Georgia Tech includes visually impaired members or consultants, but I believe that to make ICTs be more inclusive, reflecting with multiple voices of various stakeholders is essential. While I was writing this article, I came across one effort for this.  Let me share that story in closing..

Collaborative approach to make new technology more inclusive and responding

The research group of Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology (RCAST) under the University of Tokyo developed a screen reader, which can read Devanagari (Nepali language). This is based on the existing screen reader, which was developed by Professor Paul Blenkhorn of University of Manchester. The Nepali language reader named “Thunder” was developed in collaboration with Nepal Association for the Welfare of the Blind (NAWB) and over 70 people from NAWB, including visually impaired people participated in the development process. Moreover, considering the high illiteracy rate among the poor in Nepal, Thunder can expand access to information for those people.  Of course, Thunder may face the problem of funding and how to deal with frequent Windows updates (Thunder is Windows dependent application). I am not sure I can call the process as “participatory” but people and NAWB and RCAST have tackled issues together to make their Thunder more inclusive and responsive.

Dear readers– Due to the limitation of space, my argument here has to be cut a little bit short. If you are interested in learning more about ICTs for disabilities, the links may be useful.

Sources

World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited: evaluator in THE HINDU on Aug.11, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2347766.ece

App helps blind to send text messages in BBC on Feb.20, 2012 http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-17105225

The first step to Himalaya: Thunder, Devanagari Screen reader was developed in the collaboration with Nepali Blinds (in Japanese) in RCAST report, Home page of RCAST http://www.rcast.u-tokyo.ac.jp/ja/rcast/report/2010/0802.html

 

 

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Computing education: we already know about it!

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

Computing Education today: Is it boring? Why?

Have you experienced computing lessons during your school days? Did you like those lessons? British kids these days “No” to their computing lessons in schools–Although British school takes pride in having more computers per students among the European countries, their computing lessons have been viewed as “highly unsatisfactory”.  In fact, a post from the Guardian on Jan.13, 2012 began with voices of children:

We are taught how to save documents and search for simple information, but we are on the Internet at home and do most of our homework on the computer so we know how to do that. So IT lessons are kind of boring and we all really want to say to the teachers that we already know what we’re being taught. I wish we could learn how to do graphics, how to make a game or how to use Facebook safely – then we’d feel like we were actually learning something useful. I want to be a dancer or an actress when I’m older, so I’d like to learn how to look up videos to help me with my acting. (Comment by Ellie Magee, 12, Rivington and Blackrod high school, Bolton, Lancashire)

The gap between the existing computing curriculum and what children already known about ICTs raises very important issue for ICTs in education: how to upgrade lessons in tandem with rapid technological improvements and unprecedented usage in homes as well as schools and offices. In thinking about the wide spread use of ICTs in developing countries, this is not the topic limited to classrooms in “developed countries”.

Two positions for ICT curriculum reform: how to invent vs. how to use it

Along with the issue of reforming computing lessons in British school, there is an interesting debate. I will introduce each position comparing the article from The Guardian and The Forbes.

One position is coming from Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google Inc. According to the Guardian’s article, he believes that computing lessons should teach children how to code rather than how to use computers. He says, “Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it’s made. That is just throwing away your great computer heritage.” Great computer heritage here refers to  his perception that the UK is home to many media-related inventions, such as photography, TV and computers [1].

Contrary, Tim Worstall of the Forbes found that Schmidt’s view of computing lessons “entirely misses the point about computing education.” He insists that while Schmidt claims the basics of coding should lead to economic growth of British economy, it is not coming from “invention of new things”.  Rather,  “the use of those inventions to either do old things more efficiently or to do entirely new things”.  In addition, he thinks not everyone is interested in inventing new things.

How to respond the voices of children: “boring”

© Studiopaula | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Studiopaula | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Although two positions differ in how they see the contents of computing education, both of them pay attention to the positive impact that computing education could make on the British economy. Also, both of them strive to address the most effective way to increase human capital, trusting a causal relationship between education and economic growth unconditionally. In both positions, the goal of education is viewed as producing economic benefits.

Of course, economic impact can be a part of the natural consequences of education. However, as we know, this does not necessarily mean that economic effects area the only consequence of education. As Bartlett (2008) illustrated through her ethnographic research at Freireian schools, the ways education can contribute or shape society should be understood with greater flexibility. In this regard, the two arguments may understate voices of children who claim the class is, “boring”, like Ellie Magee I cited above. As Worstal of the Forbes states, not everyone is interested in how to code.  However it is also true that not everyone sees the economic benefits of computing education based on software. Therefore, the new ICTs curriculum should enable children to choose among various options. These could include innovative projects that lead to inventing new things, or exploring how to utilize cloud computing. It may be purely enjoying new educational experiences through online education opportunities (please refer my previous post!). In advocating for the enhancement of children’s choices, one solution may be to provide them computer basics, as Schmit says, that can serve as an appropriate foundation for children to explore choices on their own, keeping up with rapid progress of new technologies at their own pace.

We should not forget that whether we think basic computing or coding is the way to increase human capital or employability, the aim to increase one’s capabilities should be at the core of computer education.   In this regard, we should pay attention to the various new efforts from grass roots initiatives. For example, Manchester Girl Geeks, which teach children especially girls the joy of various elements of computing and tell them computing is related to their day-to-day life and not “boring”.

Sources and Footnotes

Bartlett, L. (2008). Literacy’s verb: Exploring what literacy is and what literacy does. International Journal of Educational Development, 28(6), 737-753. doi:10.1016/j.ijedudev.2007.09.002

Computer lessons are out of date, admits government, in the guardian on Nov.28, 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/nov/28/computer-lessons-out-of-date

Daily Report: Online Learning, Through the Khan Academy, on Dec.5, 2011, http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/05/daily-report-online-learning-through-the-khan-academy/?scp=3&sq=Khan%20Academy&st=cse

Google’s Eric Schmidt: Entirely Missing the Point on Computer Education in the Forbes on April.8, 2012, http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2012/04/08/googles-eric-schmidt/

ICT lessons in schools are ‘highly unsatisfactory’, says Royal Society in The Guardian on  Jan.13, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/13/ict-lessons-uk-schools-unsatisfactory?newsfeed=true

ICT at school is boring, children say in the guardian on Jan.13, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/09/children-computer-lessons

Why we need to bring creativity and technology back together across the curriculum in the guardian on Mar.21, 2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2012/mar/21/creativity-technology-classroom-teaching

[1] Google’s Eric Schmidt criticises education in the UK in BBC on Aug.26, 2011 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14683133

ICT4D Failures and how we learned from them

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

What do you think when you hear that the failure rate of ICT4D projects by the World Bank is about 70%? Is it higher or lower than you expected? This week, each of us, ICTs for BOP bloggers explores what we can learn from the failures of past projects. As other writers such as Anna discusses the lessons learned for a specific case, in this post, I would like to more broadly discuss how various audiences interpret the lessons learned differently.  Let’s find out what the percentage I cited above means to you.

World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited

The Hindu’s post, titled “World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited: evaluator” reports the World Bank and it’s internal Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) released an Evaluation of World Bank Group Activities in Information and Communication Technologies, which is a review of a total $4.2 billion in World Bank committed to the ICT section during fiscal years2003 and 2010, of which about $2.9 billion was for supporting ICT sectors in “the poorest” countries.  The four main domains of the World Bank ICT4D projects are: 1) ICT sector reform, 2) increased access to information infrastructure, 3) ICT skills development, 4) ICT applications.

The Hindu views it as a key finding that “limited in targeted efforts to increase access to the underserved beyond what was commercially attractive” with the result only 30 per cent of the projects targeting underserved groups succeeded and approximately 70 per cent of them failed. Through the interview with The Hindu, Laurent Besancon, Coordinator for the New ICT Strategy of the World Bank, stated that the bank’s future focus would be on policy reform to boost broadband potential in developing countries; and also on helping operators finance the “public good” aspect of infrastructure, such as setting up telecom towers in remote rural areas.

Congratulations to the World Bank!?

In relation to our initial question, The Hindi finds most of the results of the World Bank –related ICT for Development (ICT4D) projects during 2003-10, as somewhat “limited”. Many of you may support this view. For example, in his blog “ICTs for development”, Professor Heeks, who is one of the most engaging scholars in this field, stated the five broad reasons for why many ICT4D projects fail.

  • Failure to involve beneficiaries and users: those who can ensure that project designs are well-matched to local realities.
  • Rigidity in project delivery: following a pre-planned approach such as that mandated by methods like Structured Systems Analysis and Design Methodology, or narrow use of Log Frames.
  • Failure to learn: not incorporating lessons from experiences that arises either before or during the ICT4D project.
  • Ignoring local institutional capacities: not making use of good local institutions where they already exist or not strengthening those which could form a viable support base.
  • Ineffective project leadership: that is unable to direct and control the ICT4D project.

(Excerpt from ICTs for Development)

However, there are other ways to interpret the same result. ICT works post provides interesting insights in this regard. It states that instead of asking why the past projects did such a bad job or calling for reduction of ICT investment, we should evaluate more about the transparency and risky practices of the World Bank. Furthermore, ICT works regards the number of 30% success rate for increasing access to the underserved as positively, compared with the “the 20% success rate of Silicon Valley start-ups who are coddled by the most business-conducive environment in the world”. Of course, it should not be easily compared with the situation of the World Bank’s ICT4D projects (relatively non-profit oriented) and Silicon Valley venture businesses (for- profit oriented). However, when we think about what is “failure ” or “Success”, especially in quantifiable terms, we have to be fully aware of evaluator’s lens as well as our own.  Moreover, considering ICT4D is a relatively new field, it is most critical to share the failures with others.  This transparency must replace a tendency to cover-up or hide failure, and must of course be accompanied by avoiding making mistakes  (this is also very important!) in order to improve outcomes forICT4D in future projects.  Some scholars and practitioners have already started an initiative to share the failures or “what does not work” in ICT4D projects.  This initiative coined the term “Failfaire”, which offers online space to exchange knowledge and holds international conferences to connect people with same aspirations.

Let us know how you view the results of ICT4D projects illustrated by Anna, Maria and Fatima!

Sources and Footnotes

World Bank’s targeted ICT interventions were limited: evaluator in THE HINDU on Aug.11, 2011, http://www.thehindu.com/news/international/article2347766.ece

A Great Success: World Bank has a 70% failure rate with ICT4D projects to increase universal access in ICT works on Aug.17, 2011 http://www.ictworks.org/news/2011/08/17/great-success-world-bank-has-70-failure-rate-ict4d-projects-increase-universal-acces

Capturing Technology for Development in Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), (n.d.) http://ieg.worldbankgroup.org/content/ieg/en/home/reports/ict.html

Can a Process Approach Improve ICT4D Project Success? In ICTs for Development on Nov.29, 2011, http://ict4dblog.wordpress.com/?s=failure

Online Education Updates: the Possibilities for Non-Formal Education for Marginalized Groups

By Naoko Asano Enomoto

The article of New York Times on March 4 questions the validity of alternative certifications issued from digital learning opportunities.  In recent years, the number of online learning site courses which offer certifications are increasing. David Wiley, a professor and expert of new online courses of Brigham Young University, predicts that in the near future, alternative forms of certification will also come to the center arena in addition to the traditional diploma. What supports Wiley’s assumption is the recent trend that many people who only obtain online credentials still get a well-paid position in an established companies, such as Google. .  There are attempts to utilize online certification to better specifying the skills the person  has learned. The global foundations such as Mozilla and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation are now working on the system of educational “badges”, which clarify what exact skills the certificate holder has learned.  Microsoft’s skill qualification for their products is an established example of the badge system.

Some educators doubt the possibility of online certification as an alternative respectful certification unless the issue of cheating is solved. Based on their current experience of online learners who use double accounts to get a perfect score in a few minutes.  For example, Stanford University is aware that if their online courses offer credentials, the issue should be seriously taken into consideration.  In order to cope with the issue of the honor code, the possibility of protected test centers has been considered.

Bridging formal education to non-formal education

The discussion over alternative certifications through digital learning raised in the article is particularly intriguing, when I consider it within the scope of ICTs and Non-formal education (NFE) in developing countries. In developing regions, where NFE is often the sole opportunity to learn, finding ways to bridge the NFE opportunities into formal education systems is crucial to create access for underprivileged students to enter secondary or vocational education programs.. For instance, the established Bangladeshi NGO, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) offers four-year Non Formal Primary Education (NFPE) for out of school children.  Students can obtain the certificate that has the same value to primary education as in the formal schooling system.  According to BRAC, many of the graduates of NFPE are going on to secondary education. In this context, if the issue of cheating is taken into account, the idea of alternative certification through online courses has strong potential for the marginalized students.  If programs like BRAC’s NFPE provide online courses, it may reach a broader range of learners who lack access to formal education not only because of geographical issues but also because of gender, social classes, and cultural issues.  Again, it also allows a path to secondary/higher education or other training opportunities.

 

YouTube for Education (Screen Shot from http://www.youtube.com/education)

Open Education

Besides the issue of certification, here I will focus on the aspects of the  “openness” of digital learning. Nowadays, if you have a digital device, which is connected to the Internet, you can easily enjoy plenty of digital learning opportunities. For instance, The KhanAcademy offers free online education, with special focus on high-quality Math and Science education.  Although English is still the main medium of instruction of the Khan Academy’s programs, there are ways to utilize those programs in formal and non-formal education in developing countries.  In some of these countries,  where English is the instructional language for Math and Science, Khan Academies programs can be used to support dropouts in returning school, for example.  The Khan Academy is now working on captions in number of languages.

Also, YouTube for Schools, Teachers and Education covers a wide range of content from primary education to tertiary and lifelong learning (The videos of the Khan Academies are also found there). With ALISON, there are a wide range of free online trainings. Interestingly, ALISON has diploma-level courses for free, which covers English Language and Literature, Business and Legal Studies, Psycology, Mathmatics and so on.  In this regard, online learning can support non-formal education in developing regions by expanding the reach of learning with a variety of learning content.

ALISON (Screen Shot from http://alison.com/)

However, when it comes to online learning, as a means of non-formal education for wide range of learners in developing regions, we realize that challenges remain. We should be fully aware of culture and languages when creating digital educational content.  As our class readings Adely (2009) and Arends-Kuenning & Amin (2001) illustrate, education in different settings can result in different effects or impacts on people. Speaking of languages, there are attempts to get rid of common linguistic obstacles. For instance, many of the lectures on TED.com have captions in multiple languages with the help of volunteer translators across the globe. For example, Ken Robinson’s “Schools kill creativity” offers caption in 54 languages.

In the end, it is certain that there are challenges to utilizing online tools in non-formal education for the marginalized groups.   Not only must we consider the content issue but also the availability of electricity, Internet connection and its speed. Yet, as the article of New York Times suggested, both the rapid progress in online education (for-profit and non-profit) and initiatives for alternative certification make me believe that online learning may go beyond the traditional dichotomy of “formal” and “non-formal” education systems in the near future.

 

References

“Beyond the College Degree, Online Educational Badges” By TAMAR LEWIN on March 4, 2012, New York Times. http://goo.gl/4V51c
Adely, F. J. (2009). Educating Women for Development: the Arab Human Development Report 2005 and the Problem With Women’s Choices1. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 41(01), 105. doi:10.1017/S0020743808090144Arends-kuenning, M., & Amin, S. (2001). Women’s Capabilities and the Right to Education in Bangladesh. International Journal of Politics, 15(1).

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