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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

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

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