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.
- ICTs in Education for People with Disabilities – Review of Innovative Practice
- BBC News archives of ICTs and the disabilities
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
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 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!
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
From left to right: Intel’s teacher training, classroom PC and learning series tablet. Source: http://goo.gl/Xkok9
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: http://goo.gl/8iAO2
Intel Teach Program homepage: http://goo.gl/Xqluw
ICTs to revolutionize education system in Vietnam in ICTs, Education and Entrepreneurship on February 4, 2010: http://goo.gl/FvVNR
Intel provides PCs on Intel Teach Program World wide: http://goo.gl/raKXG
DICP: Project to connect all schools in Philippines in League of Corporate Foundations: http://goo.gl/hP3AW
Public schools urged to implement computer class program in Philippine Information Agency on January 19, 2012: http://goo.gl/ZXDht
Cambodia schools connected Metfone and Viettel in Viettel Group on May 8, 2011: http://goo.gl/NIA8W
“A smarter Thailand through ICT” on in ICT in Education of UNESCO Bangkok on May 8, 2009: http://goo.gl/fTkTz
“Intel-teach Program Saves the Illiterates Not Only in the Philippines but Also in Other Asian Countries” in Yahoo! Voices on August 14, 2011: http://goo.gl/7Ij0c
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