Category: ICTs


Improving female literacy through ICTs in Pakistan


We have also covered the issue of improvements in literacy in third world countries on our blog. We have discussed a few literacy projects by Google, TATA (India & Africa), Planet Read’s (India – “Same Language Sub-titling project“), Tastan (Senegal – Jokko Initiative).

A current report titled “Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity” discussing the mobile phone gender gap in low and middle-income countries has presented some insight into the advantages of bridging the mentioned gap. The report suggests that:

Mobile phone ownership in low and middle-income countries has skyrocketed in the past several years. But a woman is still 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than a man. This figure increases to 23% if she lives in in Africa, 24% if she lives in the Middle East, and 37% if she lives in South Asia.

One of the important impacts of ICTs is on literacy and we will be covering a case from Pakistan about SMS for literacy project by Bunyad Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO and Mobilink (Pakistan telco).

A brief description about Bunyad’s projects by Pakistan Herald is reproduced here:

The schools established under the project were known as ILM NFPE centres and were supported by UNICEF starting with literacy and education in one district Bunyad has gradually expanded both in geographical areas of operation as well as the field of its activities. It is presently active in 18 districts of the province of Punjab and particularly in more than 2000 villages and its programs, in addition to literacy and non-formal education, include projects in such diverse fields as child labour, women empowerment for poverty alleviation, saving and micro credit community development, integrated farming and sanitation, health, reproductive health and environment. Bunyad has been working in approximately 5000 villages in 500 Union councils on various projects in Pakistan.

Bunyad’s work won it international recognition through UNESCO’s awards in contribution to literacy and education. The organization’s president was also awarded Aizaz-e-Fazeelat (Civil award) from president of Pakistan.

Pakistani mobile operator Mobilink, a subsidiary of Orascom, has learned a great deal about attitudes regarding women and mobile phones, especially as penetration rates soared in Pakistan over the last several years. In addition to creating a product tailored specifically for the women’s market several years ago, Mobilink has sought to demonstrate the power of mobile phones to improve literacy rates for adolescent girls in rural areas of Pakistan where reading materials are often scarce. Yet there is often resistance to girls’ having the independence that mobile phones symbolise.

For four months in 2009, Mobilink partnered with UNESCO and a local nongovernmental organisation (NGO), Bunyad, on a pilot project in a rural area of southern Punjab province involving 250 females aged 15-24 who had recently completed a basic literacy programme. Each of the girls was provided with a low-cost mobile phone and prepaid connection. Teachers were trained by Bunyad to teach students how to read and write using mobile phones. The company set up a system for the NGO to send out SMS messages in an effort to maintain and improve participants’ literacy, which often lapses because of inadequate access to interesting reading material. Crucially, the low-cost phones were enabled to send and receive messages in Urdu, the local language, rather than in English. The girls received up to six messages a day on a variety of topics including religion, health and nutrition, and were expected to practise
reading and writing down the messages and responding to their teachers via SMS. Monthly assessments of participants learning gains were conducted to assess impact.

Programme organisers encountered considerable resistance on the part of  parents and community leaders to the idea of allowing girls to have mobile phones, largely due to the conservative social norms of the area. This resistance began to soften, however, once people began to see the nature of the messages the girls were receiving and the benefits the programme conferred. Exams taken by the girls participating in the programme showed striking early gains in literacy, with the share of girls receiving the lowest scores dropping nearly 80%.

Participants and their families are even taking advantage of other features of the phones, including the calculator. While 56% of learners and their families initially maintained negative feelings toward the programme, 87% were satisfied with its results by the end. Families also appreciated the greater sense of security that being able to contact their daughters or wives provided. Users can pay US$6 to buy their phones at the end of the programme and continue receiving text messages, and Mobilink, UNESCO and Bunyad plan to expand the programme further.
The success of this programme demonstrates how mobile phones can be used to increase the reach and effectiveness of basic education programmes. It also illustrates the fact that  suspicion of mobile phones can be overcome by showing parents and leaders how mobiles
can be used to transmit culturally sensitive information whilst increasing girls’ sense of security.

As reported by business recorder, Mobilink has planned to extend this pilot project further.

Uptil now, SMS have been perceived as a threat by academics and the discussion had always been centered around how to curb this nuisance during classrooms, as duly noticed by Micheal Trucano on his blog at World Bank.  However m-learning initiatives are changing the landscapes of education. Trucano also referred to another interesting m-learning project from Pakistan. He notes that:

In Pakistan, some innovative folks are exploring how basic text messaging (SMS) can be used in the education sector to the benefit of people with even very low end mobile phones, leveraging the increasing high teledensities found in communities across the country.

Thinkchange Pakistan notes that:

The Asghar Mall College pilot project where 150 students who had their mobile phone numbers on file began participating in a daily vocabulary quiz exercise delivered by SMS. These young men from middle to lower middle class backgrounds were sent simple multiple-choice questions.  Texts were addressed to each student individually, using the equivalent of a ’mail merge’ function. The students would reply via SMS, and then receive an automated response based on their answer.  In this response, a notation was made about whether the answer given was correct or not, and then the correct answer was incorporated into a sample sentence.

Based on the results of the pilot, the Provincial Education Department of the Government of the Punjab is showing interest in exploring these activities further. The project principals have already started thinking about expanding the scope of their activities. For example they are currently toying with the idea of sending text messages to parents to encourage further parent involvement in the student’s academics.

Another similar concept of m-learning is being implemented in Niger and is worth visiting.

Advertisements

Curbing corruption through ICTs (e-governence)


As we have been repeatedly sharing new concepts about use of ICTs for empowering humans, their use in e-governance is an emerging field. The concept of “Jhang model” for curbing corruption is an elegant and simplistic solution for the local governing bodies to establish feedback mechanisms for checks and balances on corruption in daily operations of bureaucracy and government officials.
Started off in district of Jhang in Punjab, Pakistan, the idea is now gaining ground in other districts of punjab. The whole concept is expained in the video (some portions are in urdu and i’ll try to put it in words here).

Video presentation commentary:

I’ll show you a small video and it will give you the visual sense of the project.

‘It is a simple project, if any citizen pays a visit to any government office for routine work, his/her cell number be recorded and after a given amount of time any responsible government official shall contact him/her about the visit and the experience of the citizen. The officer can directly ask him/her if any corruption was witnessed? If any pattern is discovered representative officials should take action.

Call…

Allahdita, i’m DCO Gujranwala speaking (our call got hungup), i was talking about the program started on behest of Chief minister Punjab to check if there is any problems being faced by citizens during the registration process… You were here a few days back for your registry so i wanted to check back if you faced any such problem, did anyone overcharge you (yes), did you get your work done within one day? (yes) My bother how much did they charge you? (it cost me 3000 Rs in total). Does it include the documentation work too? (yes) Did clerk charge you anything extra? (No sir).

Second Call…

Is this Muhammad Sideeq? (Yes sir). Commissioner Bahawalpur will speak to you. (alright).

Sideeq sahab, Assalam-o-Alaikum, (Wa-Alaikum- Salam sir, is everything ok?) Thanks a lot. I’m commissioner Bahawalpur speaking, Mushtaq. You got your registration on 14th for for 5 Marla land in RahimyarKhan. Did you face any problems or anyone bother you? (Sir i did not face any problem, issue or tension. Thanks a lot for your follow up).

IVR Message – The following call is being made from Government of Punjab, you shall be receiving messages or calls from Government inquiring about the conduct you were provided during registration process. Did you face any difficulties or problems?


 

Qatar IT centre to aid the disabled


Qatar’s vision to empower and enable people with disabilities through Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is receiving a boost with Mada, the Qatar Assistive Technology Centre. Since the non-profit organization opened on June 1 this year, a number of individuals have benefited from its state-of-the-art resource centre, described as the region’s only one of its kind.

The centre features interactive assistive technology (AT) environments for the visually impaired, hearing impaired, learning disabled and people with disabilities.The Mada resource centre is a showcase of cutting-edge technology, including computer software that reads the screen for the blind, eye tracking devices that allows to control a computer with eye movement, voice recognition, switch solutions that allow a computer to be controlled with a single movement such as sipping or blowing through a tube and word prediction.

There are separate workstations for individuals with hearing, visual, learning or physical disabilities. Screenreader solutions such as Ibsar and Jaws enables blind users to read, on their own, printed books and documents as well as electronic files. Ibsar helps them write texts in both Arabic and English, in addition to saving and printing these texts in Braille. The software speaks the text on a computer screen in both Arabic and English. With a screenreader a blind user is able to access the Internet and read websites, or send, receive and manage e-mail.The Tobii eye-tracking computer allows someone with no physical control of their body, other than eye movement to take control of a computer through which they can communicate, control the environment, browse the web and even play games.

(Source: Gulf Times)
Full Story


The Tanzania-based m-Education program called Bridgeit, locally known as Elimu kwa Teknolojia (Education Through Technology), involves an innovative process of disseminating educational programming directly to the classroom via a mobile phone. The program is a function of a multi-sector partnership involving Tanzania’s Ministry of Education and Vocational Training (MoEVT), the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), the Pearson Foundation, the International Youth Foundation, Nokia Corporation and funded by a three-year $2 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Through the Bridgeit program, teachers are provided with access to a digital catalog of educational videos that are typically 4-7 minutes in length. The teachers download the videos from the server via a mobile phone connected to a television installed in the classroom. With each video comes a lesson plan crafted to allow teachers and students interact with the ideas introduced by the video. Hence, a typical teaching period would involve a viewing of the video followed by teacher-led exercises and activities aimed at reinforcing the ideas the students have just learned.

Leveraging the power of cell-phone technology, Bridgeit improves the quality of teacher instruction and increases primary school student achievement in math, science, and life skills. In Tanzania, over one year, Bridgeit has been implemented in 150 schools, training 1,544 primary school teachers, and benefiting 40,400 rural and urban students.

(Sources: ETD, IYF)

Further Details

Pakistan: TSF on site to provide emergency telecoms services


Technology experts from charity Telecoms Sans Frontieres are providing emergency telecoms services to the victims of the flooding in Pakistan.

TSF, which has been in Pakistan since 9 August, said it has been providing telecoms services to victims of the flooding to allow them to call relatives and friends abroad. Around 945 families have been provided with calls so far, according to TSF. “For many people, the call provided by TSF is the first call since the outbreak of the disaster,” the organization said. “Many victims have lost their mobile phone or are in places with no electricity to recharge or simply have no money to buy credit.”

According to UN officials, the Pakistan floods cover an area the size of England with up to 20 million people affected. At least 1,600 people have been killed, with health officials warning the toll could rise as water-borne diseases spread, TSF reported.

TSF said it has 8 mobile teams, equipped with satellite and GSM phones, in the districts of Peshawar, Nowshera and Charsadda and plan to operate in the country for at least a month. The teams are composed of one man and one woman to allow both men and women to make a call, TSF said.

TSF staff also provides support to OCHA/UNDAC and the other UN agencies in the inter-agency office in Multan, Punjab Province. This assignment is scheduled until staff from the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster and other OCHA partners (IHP) take over. TSF continues to coordinate with the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) as per further needs for ICT support to aid agencies.

Telecoms Sans Frontieres (TSF) deployed to Haiti in January to respond the impact of the earthquake in the country. The charity specialises in setting up communications infrastructure to allow aid-agencies to communicate on the ground more effectively.
(Source: eweek europe, TSF)
Further details


Pakistan has been severely affected by unprecedented floods triggered by heavy rains. It has led to tragic loss of lives besides widespread loss of livestock, destruction of physical/communication infrastructure in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Azad Kashmir, Punjab, Balochistan and Sindh. Flooding has submerged whole villages in the past week, killing at least 1,600 people, according to the UN. Pakistan authorities believe more than 12 million people have been affected, with the figure likely to rise as flood waters head south.


Christian aid agencies have warned that the destruction of transport and communication links is leaving many victims of the Pakistani floods virtually “cut off” from outside help. Ashraf Mall, Tearfund’s Country Representative for Pakistan, said:

“It’s one of the biggest floods in the history of Pakistan. People need food immediately as they have lost their homes and possessions. But it is not proving easy to respond to this emergency. Bridges and roads have been destroyed and the disruption of transport and communication links is making assessments difficult, with many survivors effectively cut off from outside help.”

Some pictures of Pakistanis coping with the floods can be seen here. Some ways to help through your donations are listed here.

(Sources: SAMAA, Christian Today)


The JEI is one of Her Majesty’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah’s nonprofit organizations. The JEI works hand in hand with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Information Communication Technology (MoICT) to support Jordan’s efforts to improve the education system and its use of ICT to transform the learning environment in Jordanian schools and advance learning for all students.

Since its launch in 2003 by the World Economic Forum partners, the JEI has been involved in multimillion dollar initiatives that have had a strong impact on the modernization of education in Jordan. The JEI relies highly on partnerships and collaborations with local and global entities. The global partners include WEF, USAID, UNESCO, CISCO, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, HP, IBM, SMART etc. Direct contributions to the Initiative from global and local partners have reached over US$ 25 million.

The initiative has so far reached more than 80,000 students, up-skilled more than 3,000 teachers across 102 Jordanian Public Schools. Thousands of electronic lessons have been developed and many electronic teaching tools and equipments have been deployed in schools. The JEI has also employed SMART interactive whiteboards in its discovery schools. The JEI has also piloted installing 100 Intel Classmate PCs in discovery schools.

The JEI has not only received an award from Ministry of Education but has also received 2009 UNESCO award for use of ICT in education.

(Sources: JEI, WEF )

Further Details

India’s prototype $35 tablet for students


India, known for the “world’s cheapest” innovations, unveiled a prototype of a $35 tablet computer aimed at students.

The project is part of an ambitious education technology initiative by the Indian government, which also aims to bring broadband connectivity to India’s 25,000 colleges and 504 universities and make study materials available online.

The government even plans on subsidizing the cost of the tablet for its student which would bring the purchase price down even lower. According to Kapil Sibal, the country’s Minister for Human Resource Development, this is their answer to MIT’s $100 computer.

The Linux-based computer at first glance resembles an Apple iPad and features basic functions you’d expect to see in a tablet–a Web browser, multimedia player, PDF reader, Wi-Fi, and video conferencing ability. It has 2GB of RAM (but no hard disk, instead using a memory card) and USB ports and could be available to kids from primary school up to the university level as early as next year.

(Sources: telecentre.org, cnet news, bbc news)

The computer has been named “Nano” and has been developed through joint efforts of IISc Bombay and IIT Chennai. Although the computer itself has been developed through the interfacing of various off-shelf components yet it has been engineered to be rugged and all-weathered, suited for use by children, and can be termed as a very promising innovation. The use of opensource software and cheap hardware, memory cards instead of hard-disk, makes the promise of $10 (aimed target) somewhat plausible.
Full Story

Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Engineers


Innovation and Entrepreneurship seem like alien words in the world of College of E&ME, where walking on the layed out (SOP certified) line is “siraat-e-mustakeem”. The lack of appreciation for different personalities and their ideas, coupled with the sole benchmarking based on GPA has turned it into a stagnant system. The immediate and evident consequences of this being that the top notch students of nation coming to this college are provided with a mindset (by default) to seek jobs. Starting a new business or a venture is out of their books! Or at least a lowest grade back up. Students would even prefer low income research jobs (even though they don’t have research aptitude). A brief study of stats shows that it was not until the recession hit market cut down vacancies, that the students started thinking of doing something of their own, otherwise doing own business is out of question. Not that the students aren’t capable enough or worst non-innovative, it’s the general mindset of society, educational institute and the family that first goal set for fresh grads is to find some “cool” job – which necessarily entails some famous multinational or a permanent government job.

Breaking this ice of stagnation, Society of ICTs arranged a lecture on “Innovation and Entrepreneurship for engineers”. The guest speaker was the well-known, Mr. Adnan Shahid (president EME Alumni Association, De 14EE Graduate, Director post paid solutions at Mobilink and an MBA from MIT). The speaker had a solid IT background polished by the studies at MIT. He has been lately talking to the college administration to promote new ideas and concepts in a bit to foster entrepreneurial ventures by EMEnets. These are the earliest attempts of shifting the excessive academic focus of the college administration though. It might take much time to develop an atmosphere conducive to innovative minds to break the conventions and take up new challenges – eventually to get spin out companies formed by college graduates.

Though the lecture was held at a very short notice, the simplistic yet inspirational speaking skills of the guest kept the audience alive, interested and at the same time calling their pals to come to ECR (through SMS). Sir Adnan presented several examples of small ideas which later on changed the technology or the lives of people. Through the brilliant examples and news report clippings (from Pakistani newspapers) he explained the terms Innovation and invention as well as their link. He presented several case studies to students e.g. Facebook, his target of research, and presented his analysis of the marketing techniques Facebook guys implemented to make it such a huge success. Mr. Adnan challenged the students to come up with ideas along with their business proposals and start their own ventures. He presented the examples of content development (applications, wallpapers, ringtones etc.) for Mobilink itself. The students look forward to more of such lectures by alumni to guide them and inspire them J Society of ICTs will be working with the Alumni Liaison Committee to hold more of such lectures. Next semester a series of lectures on software development are also planned with the alumni owning software houses.

Khan Academy — A useful online academy for students


The Khan Academy is a remarkable, one-person effort to educate the World. Salman Khan has produced over 900 videos on YouTube-covering everything from basic arithmetic to calculus, chemistry, and physics. Continuing to produce several hundred videos a year, Salman intends to provide instruction in all subjects to anyone, anywhere.

The Khan Academy started by Salman Khan, a Harvard Business School alum takes a radically different approach to education.Salman was working as a hedge fund analyst and was remotely tutoring his cousins and once his tutorials got a little famous, he ended up delivering the same (read: repetitive) tutoring to other students.He started recording the videos and put up the tutorials on Youtube. Initially, he started creating tutions using Microsoft Paint (black background/florescent colors) and later moved to sophisticated software donated by the site viewers.

“Whats amazing about Khan academy is the simplicity of operation – its a one man show. As of writing this article, there were 13 million views of the academy videos on Youtube; and the videos are visited by 100,000 students a month, averaging around 40,000 video views a day!”

Millions of students around the world lack access to high quality instruction, especially in the sciences and math. The Khan Academy provides it for free in a way that can be accessed on-demand at a student’s own pace. The videos are directly teaching tens of thousands of students on every continent on a daily basis. Other non-profit groups have even begun distributing off-line versions of the library to rural and underserved areas in Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

For example of students using Khan Academy please see our other post of Mini Tuition Club.

%d bloggers like this: