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 biztechafrica.com 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

Sources:

Ghana Boosts ICT for Disabled. In BIZTECH AFRICA on Oct. 31, 2011: http://goo.gl/atx5G
Ghana to train Disabled in ICT. In Balancing Act: Telecoms, Internet and Broadcast in Africa on March 2, 2012: http://goo.gl/GxeES
Ministry of Education to provide ICT centres for people with disabilities in Modern Ghana on 14 June, 2009: http://goo.gl/IyMln
ICTs Education for People with Disabilities. In UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education: http://goo.gl/5rXjl
‘IT for Disabled’ in Thai schools. In ICTs, Education and Entrepreneurship on Feb. 11, 2010 http://goo.gl/F7DDt
UNESCO launches a meeting report on accessible ICTs for students with disabilities. In ICT in Education, UNESCO, Bangkok: http://goo.gl/ckbdg
Disabilities: What is it? In youthink! http://goo.gl/Tctem

Advertisements

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

 

 

Singapore: Integrating ICT Use in the Curriculum

By Maria Aguirre

This week’s topic was about the use of ICTs in formal education. In addressing this, I will discuss the current Masterplan developed in Singapore which seeks to include ICTs into curriculum, pedagogy and assessment so the students develop competencies for the 21st century. This is a great example of how a country can include -ICTs- in their education system successfully.

As described at the Ministry of Education website, the history of Masterplans that promote the use of ICT in education in Singapore started with the first Masterplan (1997-2002) which aimed to provide the basic ICT infrastructure and to equip teachers with the basic levels of ICT competency. The second Masterplan (2003-2008) was to create an effective and pervasive use of ICT in education. And lastly, the third Masterplan (2009-2014) was aimed to continue the previous plans’ philosophy, that education should continually anticipate the needs of the future and prepare pupils to meet those needs. Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) launched in 2009 the third Masterplan for ICTs in education. This Masterplan seeks to enrich and transform the learning environments of the students and to “equip them” with the critical competencies to succeed in a knowledge economy. This statement that goes along with the functionalist perspective is looking to strengthen integration of ICT into curriculum and pedagogy. Basically, the MOE is interested in helping to create a differentiated professional development that is more practice-based, where ICT help students learn better, and schools support the provisions of ICT. In order to include ICTs to the curriculum, this Masterplan is creating a greater alignment of students’ learning outcomes in the syllabi, national examinations and classroom experience. It will promote the use of ICT to look for information, synthesize reports, and collaborate with peers. Moreover, this plan aims to train several ICT specialist teachers who will be experts on how to effectively use ICT in their classes; it will also improve the sharing of best practices through a network of educational labs. In these labs, innovations could be prototyped and tested; in the same time it will provide the latest technologies to promote exploration of learning possibilities. Lastly, accessibility of ICT to students will be increased through more flexible and mobile infrastructure provisions (e.g., wireless internet access, piloting 1-notebook-to-1-pupil ratio in more schools, and higher data bandwidth to the Internet).

Another article, described how -according to the MOE- the digital divide due to problems in technology access is fading in Singapore. They consider that the nation is facing a digital divide between students ICT-literate and students without such skills. In order to diminish this new divide, the government planned the third Masterplan. As in many other entries in our blog, this article indicates that technology in itself cannot transform learning. Yet, the vision of this Masterplan is quite accurate while it assures a vision of “harnessing technology to transform learners”. Other pertinent solution, I think, is to use social media to enable participation, dialogue and co-construction of knowledge.

In this same sense, another article introduces one of the latest applications of this Masterplan launched in a primary school in Sengkang, Singapore. In collaboration with Qualcomme and Microsoft teachers and students will have access to educational resources through smartphones. With the support of the national Institute of Education of Singapore, there is a joint work to develop customized curriculum in English, Science and Chinese, and co-design technology to enable teachers to enact lessons using smartphones. About 350 third-graders will experience the latest wireless technology easing student-centric model of learning where educational materials (e.g., web-based resources and collaborative learning tools) can be accessed anytime and anywhere via smartphones. This school will be a model for primary schools throughout Singapore and Asia. This project is using a mobile learning platform (MyDesk) and education applications developed by the University of Michigan, using Nokia 3G smartphones. The Masterplan expects that this project will “give students the means to take responsibility for their own learning and enable teachers to provide individualized mentoring”. It is also thought that students will use relevant websites that contain podcasts, video clips, and educational applications like mapping, drawing and animating to practice both self-directed and collaborative learning. The files created by students using the smartphones are backed-up and synchronized to a management system which can be later assessed by teachers for grading and feedback purposes.

References:

Developing a national educational technology policy; EduTech Blog from the World Bank on March 2012. http://goo.gl/gzWy8

MOE Launches Third Masterplan for ICT in Education; Ministry of Education in Singapore, on August 2008. http://goo.gl/4QrlP

ICT & Education: Eleven Countries to Watch — and Learn From; EduTech Blog from the World Bank on January 2011. http://goo.gl/Ls5ru

Singapore to stress on technology in new education masterplan, futuregov Asia Pacific on April 2011. http://goo.gl/RJ5Xh

Singapore school introduces mobile learning experience, futuregov Asia Pacific on April 2012. http://goo.gl/obgpy

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.

Is The OLPC Program a Failure? Evidence from a Short Term Research in Peru

By Maria Aguirre

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program seeks to improve learning in the poorest regions of the world by providing children with computers for use at both school and home. Since its start, the program has been implemented in 36 countries and has distributed more than 2 million laptops. In Latin America, the initiative began in the last decade, making the largest investment in Peru. However,  recent research conducted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) concluded that the OLPC initiative in this country failed to increase student performance in Math and Language. This post aims to discuss these results and to include analysis from other sources in order to promote a healthy discussion on this topic.

Recently a working paper by the IDB assessed the OLPC program in Peru, the country leading such initiatives in the region. With a tone of social inclusion, this initiative sought to primarily benefit rural, underprivileged communities. Since its inception, nearly a million laptops have been delivered to the students. However, the results according to this research are not encouraging. The document’s objective was to expose the lack of empirical evidence about the effects of ICT programs. The document evaluated the impacts after 15 months of implementation of the program, using a randomized control trial. The main result indicates an increase in the number of computers per student; yet, it finds no evidence of improvements in the enrollment or test scores in Math and Language.

Oscar Becerra, the person who was in charge of implementing the OLPC program from the Peruvian Ministry of Education, says in an article that “the effect is neither magic nor fast” but “it is a combination of interventions that will have long-term effects”. Becerra also points out that Peru usually suffers from the “vicious tradition” among politicians to stop their predecessors’ initiatives and start something new, regardless of the previous project’s success; yet, this was successfully prevented in the case of the OLPC program. Moreover, according to the document, the only positive result reflects a significant change in the development of cognitive skills, According to a separate blog entry posted by the IDB is a result entirely overlooked by the IDB study.

According to the World Bank blog one of the reasons why this happens -and by “this” I mean getting bad results from an initiative expected to be positive- is because of the way the program is being evaluated. This blog entry states that use of standardized tests instead of using tests developed by experts, can account for very different results. In addition, it states that “change doesn’t come unless you make real changes”; which means that change usually does not happen by a single discrete intervention. According this blog “dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen” is the worst practice of ICT use in education. Moreover, The Economist article follow the hypothesis that children learn much faster than teachers, and that teachers are not being prepared enough to keep it up with the technological change. Likewise, the article posted by the IDB[1] indicates that because the OLPC program did not included specific interventions to integrate laptop use into the curriculum, an actual change in learning was not to happen.

Just as a concluding comment, I would like to say that yes, ICT use in education should be controlled, organized and promoted with support from the government and the school itself. Both teachers and students working together with this initiative that certainly DOES facilitate and promote learning. Is just a tool, but if used properly it should lead to wonderful results!

References:

Error message, The Economist on April 2012. http://goo.gl/msMLw

Evaluating One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in Peru, EduTech World Bank Blog on March 2012.  http://goo.gl/Gd3Ha

Study: OLPC Fails Students as a Tool for Education, PC Magazine on April 2012. http://goo.gl/0khXU

One Laptop per Child program not improving math or language test scores, according to study; The Verge on April 2012. http://goo.gl/5WzPh

And the jury is back: One Laptop per Child is not enough, Inter-American Development Bank on March 2012. http://goo.gl/u6fv8

Oscar Becerra on OLPC Peru’s Long-Term Impact. EduTech Debate, on March 2012. http://goo.gl/sUKJT

Link to the IDB document: http://goo.gl/hLRsd

OLPC in Peru: http://goo.gl/fcse0


[1] And the jury is back: One Laptop per Child is not enough, Inter-American Development Bank on March 2012. http://goo.gl/u6fv8

%d bloggers like this: