Using ICTs in schools with no electricity

interacting with a whiteboard (in front of a blackboard) in Senegal

One persistent criticism that I hear of educational technology projects in many places — and especially in Africa — is that ‘there are too many pilot projects’. ‘What we really need’, or so the lament usually continues, ‘are things thatscale‘. While I don’t necessarily agree that more pilot projects are not useful — to the contrary, I have in the past explored why we need more (not fewer) ICT4D pilot projects in education — few would argue that we shouldn’t be focused on finding ‘solutions’ that ‘scale’.
One challenge that many groups find when trying to scale educational technology projects is that they often begin by working with relatively well-resourced schools in or near urban areas, seeking to establish proof-of-concept that something specific works (e.g. a technology, an approach to teacher training) before taking on the greater challenges of working in, for example, rural schools that are off-the-grid and which have few (if any) qualified teachers. It should perhaps not be so surprising that what works in the first set of schools may not work quite so well in the second set.
There are other groups who choose to start with the most difficult environments first, figuring that (1) that is where the need is greatest; and (2) if a model or approach works there, it might have a better chance of working (most) everywhere.
I am regularly contacted by groups who seek to work in such environments, but only rarely hear back from them with reports about what they are actually learning about working successfully in such environments (I do unfortunately hear a lot about failure), and how they are changing their approach or model as a result. One organization I have heard back from recently in this regard was Cybersmart Africa, a group I had initially learned about because of its innovative use of nylon sheets, PVC pipe, and a modified Nintendo Wii remote to assemble low cost interactive whiteboards for use in schools in Senegal. Cybersmart Africa works exclusively in schools with classrooms with very poor physical infrastructure (including those with no or very limited electricity). “If this is the reality for 80% of schools in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we need to scale ICT use for education, why base what you are doing on what 10-20% of the privileged have?” asks Cybersmart Africa founder Jim Teicher.
(Another example of an approach designed to work in very difficult environments is so-called interactive radio instruction; this has been shown to scale well in many places, but, for a variety of reasons, has often proved to be difficult to sustain. One Mouse Per Child, which has also been profiled on the World Bank EduTech blog previously, is another.)
Many of the Western NGOs and firms with whom I speak who are interested in ‘working in a developing country’ start with a very high level or high concept approach, figuring essentially that, if the strategy is largely correct, the details will follow. (Indigenous groups and international NGOs with long experience ‘on the ground’ usually know better, of course.) Such groups can become frustrated when they discover that it is often an accumulation of ‘small details’ that ensure their particular approach or model does not work. It is better to walk than curse the road, or so the saying goes in Wolof, one of the languages used in Senegal, and this is an approach that the Cybersmart team seems to be following. When speaking recently with Teicher, one of the most encouraging things I found was that he first wanted to share information not about grand theories about what *might* work, but rather about a lot of the ‘little things’ they have been learning about what *doesn’t* work, and about how iterating (and iterating, and iterating!) has been key to their ability to learn and make changes to their approach to methodically improve what they are doing. Things like:
  • If you are off-the-grid and need to use batteries, don’t used lead car batteries, which can cause big problems if/when they tip over, even if they are commonly available. Use sealed AGM batteries instead.
  • Let’s be honest: In most cases, there are too few computers in a school for too manystudents, and it is difficult to integrate their use into normal instruction.  Don’t make things more difficult by segregating computers into their own special rooms (e.g. computer labs). Instead, take the technology to the teachers and students where they are currently teaching and learning — in the classroom itself — and use tools like projectors and interactive whiteboards that impact as many students as possible at one time.  (While you’re at it, be prepared to spend more on teacher training and support than on the technology itself.)
  • Given a choice (and there is a choice more often that you might think!), always search for local products (or, barring that, products that can be assembled locally) instead of immediately looking to import goods from abroad — this can be key to keeping costs down and keeping your supply chain as local as possible. This approach applies as much to the PVC material that they use for the portable ‘interactive whiteboards’ that they have assembled as to lesson plans, which are developed locally.
Sounds simple, you might say, to which I would say: you are exactly right.
moving a low-cost portable interactive whiteboard -- over rocks and sand -- between classrooms
Now, it is not my place or intention to do so here to ‘endorse’ the work of any particular organization (I’ll note parenthetically that World Bank has not supported this particular project in the past — although USAID has).
Rather, it is to highlight an approach which begins by working in the most challenging environments and not simply taking a model that worked successfully in Paris or Pretoria and assuming that, with some small modifications here and there, it will work everywhere. That’s common sense, you might say, and I would certainly agree. But, if the parade of groups who (seek to) pass through our offices here at the World Bank demo’ing their wares are any indication, and the many stalled projects I visit around the world are in any way representative, too often ‘common sense solutions’ are discarded in favor of what’s ‘new and exciting’. While funding what’s new and exciting may be fashionable for donors (should I be surprised that every other project proposal I seem to come across these days seems to include the use of mobile phones in some way?), in the end that it is usually the most practical solutions that find traction with teachers and students over time.
More information (short videos):
  • Here’s a short promotional video from Cybersmart Africa showing off its work. (A hint: watch it first with the sound off to focus on what classrooms in participating pilot schools actually look like)
  • Here are some interviews with school leaders (don’t turn the sound down on this one!) and a short explanation of how text messages (SMS) are being used in conjunction with low cost interactive whiteboards to support teachers.
  • Cybersmart has also posted 17 student-made videos, put together as a result of a special ‘digital storytelling’ initiative it sponsored. The idea here was first to gain the confidence and support of parents and community leaders by extend traditional storytelling customs into the digital realm, before moving on to other things. The result: 17 portraits of contemporary village life in Senegal.
Note: The image used at the top of this blog post (“interacting with a whiteboard (in front of a blackboard) in Senegal”) comes courtesy of Cybersmart Africa.  The second image (“moving a low-cost interactive whiteboard — over rocks and sand — between classrooms”) is taken from a screen capture of the ‘Snapshot – Cybersmart Africa’ video on YouTube.  Both are used with permission of the rights holder.

Tags: , , , ,
Using ICTs in schools with no electricity
was published on 17.11.2011 by Worlali Senyo. It files under east africa, global, sub saharan africa
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
No Comments AddThis Feed Button

Leveraging Information and Communication Technology for the Base Of the Pyramid

Despite possibilities of scaling projects with technology, many technology-based initiatives in social and economic development have failed to make it past early pilot stages or grow to scale. This study by Hystra, in collaboration with Ashoka and TNO, examines what successful ventures within four sectors can teach us about models for scaling Information and Communications Technology (ICT) -based applications and projects aimed at reaching bottom-of-the-pyramid customers (referred to as Base of the Pyramid in the report). The researchers focused specifically on these sectors: education, health, agricultural services, and financial services.

What Did the Study Review?

Initially considering 280 projects as promising models, researchers found that over half were not worth researching because projects lacked sustainability or replicatibility. Many of the projects were dead pilot projects or were small with no sign of the possibility or intent of scaling in size or reach.

From there, researchers homed in on 16 groundbreaking cases. These projects had reached scale (defined as having 10,000 clients or more) or had the potential to do so. All projects were assessed against three criteria: Is the solution solving the (specified) problem? Is the project economically viable? Is the project scalable and replicable? The researchers grouped projects into specific clusters based on business model type. All projects researched were value-added or market-based, because of the researchers’ belief that such models increase project sustainability and client investment in the project.

The models that the researchers looked at varied. For instance, researchers asked whether end-users accessed the technology themselves as opposed to being delivered trough an intermediary.

What did the Researchers Find?

Technology for development is a young and dynamic field. And, with many new fields, especially in the area of social change, the rhetoric doesn’t measure up to the reality of impact for many projects.

Researchers found, not surprisingly, that many projects turn out not to be sustainable and that those that have reached some semblance of scale are rare. Many ICT4D projects, being donor-funded and donor-driven, are also short-lived and lack an identified, economically viable revenue stream. Additionally, the impact of ICT4D projects is hard to single out and measure. Researchers also found that there are various degrees of financial viability across the education, health, financial and agricultural services sectors studied. The most viable cases could be found in the finance and agricultural services sectors.

The paper goes into great detail about findings, with a chapter dedicated to each business model and sector, detailing different types of capital for different models, pros and cons of models, challenges facing each, and strategies for scaling. The paper also analyzes the state of the education, health, agricultural services, and financial services sectors.

Highlights include:

  • Education – while demand is growing for ICT support, without governments procuring the technology, it remains to be seen if there is sufficient purchasing power at the BoP to support technology education services.
  • Health – mHealth has the highest proportion of dead pilot programs, especially programs that were grant-funded.
  • Agricultural services – some of the largest projects are in this sector, some serving millions of people. The most viable of these over the longer term link individuals with income generation.
  • Financial services – by far, the most mature and viable sector with some great successes, according to the research.

What Makes Successful Project?

With this detailed analysis, the researchers were abe to point to some characteristics of successful projects. These include, understandably, a focus on the end-users ability to pay, a project structure that could adjust through trial and error, an ability to capture a large share of customer’s mind and wallet (often through related services), and varied revenue stream through a wide-range of services.

The authors also described key challenges encountered by many projects in the four areas investigated: Conflicting and confusing policy frameworks to work through (e.g. telecom and health policies), a lack of understanding of local needs and demands, as well as a lack of technical and sectoral expertise; and inability to find adequate capitalization.  Technology, especially when a project is growing, remains an issue as well. Similarly, many of the social entrepreneurs who began a venture lack solid IT expertise.

Some Conclusions

The authors aptly note, that while an entrepreneurial spirit is needed to start successful services, the ability to work with other across sectors is needed for scaling projects to include partnering the public, private and civic spheres. The paper further provides several recommendations. These include, not surprisingly, a solid focus on problem-driven approaches and a bottom-up, customer-centric world view. The authors also recommend supporting existing entrepreneurs, promoting cross-sector synergies, and removing specific barriers to scale. The paper ends with the warning that efforts must be made to reach those who as of yet do not have access to mobiles to minimize the likelihood of further excluding already marginalized populations.

Source: Mobileactive
More details and the full report Click here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,
Leveraging Information and Communication Technology for the Base Of the Pyramid
was published on 24.10.2011 by Worlali Senyo. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
1 Comment AddThis Feed Button

GlobDev Paris – Education & Knowledge Management

Notes from the workshop on Global Development, December 13 2008 in Paris.

Track III – Education & Knowledge Management
Session Chair:
Roy Johnson – University of Pretoria, South Africa

As I talked to several people during the lunch break I was late for the following session, which was:

Technology in the classroom in conditions of infrastructural and capacity constraints: Lessons from Uganda
Laura Hosman – University of California, USA

Due to an initiative of the government of Ugande, work for teachers was increased, but salary or facilities were not. So eventually the government refrained from this aproach again.

Case Study:
School of the Sisters of Notre Dame
Goals: to set up a computer class
Idea: laptops -> were more expensive, especially maintenance
The American NGO Inveneo worked out a solution especially for the circumstances. Local ICT experts were also trained.

Very realistic goals: “in 2010 students can sit for computer science courses”
The whole project turned out to be quite successful.

Why was this case successful:

  • ICT based on existing capabilities
  • ICT trained people were already there and training was not enforced on the teachers
  • Infrastructure allowed for it (solar panels could be installed because the roof had a good position)
  • “Feedback loops” were established
  • Sustainable funding – though this is a questionable claim
  • Realistic goals were established

Lessons learned:

  • The case is not applicable to whole Uganda
  • Government policy matters
  • Realistic assessment of current situation is important

What are the key findings?
– Focus on the teachers – make sure they get paid enough, are well trained and have the right equipment.

– It’s important to have goals and to define ways to reach them


Extending the ICT Technological Culturation Model – The Role of Accessibility and Perceived Socio-Economic Prospects on ICT Diffusion
Peter Meso and Philip F. Musa – Georgia State University, USA

Study in Kenya: extending the Technological Culturation Model by adding two constructs:

  • Accessibility of technology
  • Perceived socio-economic prospects

Do these aspects influence the usage of ICTs?

If individuals have access to ICTs they become culturated = familiarized = comforted with ICT -> impacts the usage of technology.

198 questionnaires

Cellphone technology:
Exposure to technology is not by itself important to usage.

Same results – email use is not related to technology culturation.


  • It pays to have ICTs readily accessible
  • This fosters usage and entrepreneurship
  • Accessibiliy is more important than physical proximity of ICTs
  • Culturation is not as effective as access


Towards a model for national e-learning implementations
Christine Charlton-Laing – University of the West-Indies, Jamaica; Gerald Grant – Charleton University, Canada

Many nations try to implement e-learning programs at a national level. Technology in education has great potential.
Therefore many countries try to embrace e-learning, but without a clear plan and lacking a clear strategy.

National e-learning strategy:
– Government led strategy to transform human capital via e-learning
Research has in this regard the burden to prioritize efforts.
It’s important to include public & private sectors and to conduct trainings on all levels.
Basic characteristics:
– Centralized body
There are national differences

Factors affecting achievements:
led by the government
significant and sustainable funding
– many factors are already identified, but there are still lacks in knowledge (what kind of ICT, how many ICTs, how to convert ICTs in useful assets, governance, time frame, …)

There should be a clear strategy, but it is uncertain which strategy to use.

The presenters approach was, to adapt Soh & Marcuses Model with 3 processes and 4 constructs.

The model is currently carried out as a case study in Jamaica and specific constraints are being addressed. Some problems were encountered and are delaying the whole process.


Assessment of Knowledge Menegement’s Growth in South Africa
C.J. (Neels) Kruger and Roy D. Johnson – University of Pretoria, South Africa

Knowledge Management: many definitions – much research -> is it a waste of time?
It seems the acceptance and usage of knowledge management determine the success.

Still there exists confusion with the expressions in knowledge management -> knowledge, information, wisdom, …
There are also managerial issues.

Approach: a questionnaire was given to companies in South Africa to find out what the true issues are.


KM has

  • grown quickly in 20% of the companies
  • 50% grow
  • 22% don’t grow
  • 5% decline

It seems like we’re using it.

Middle & senior management think we need KM. Education industries are not increasing KM.
Organizational size & availailty of resources is playing a role – but it has more to do with commitment, especially from middle management.

KM is alive and moving beyond information management.

Tags: , , ,
GlobDev Paris – Education & Knowledge Management
was published on 18.12.2008 by Florian Sturm. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
1 Comment AddThis Feed Button

Mobile phone-based education and health care for LDCs

A recent article covered two Indian-based companies that provide innovative services through mobile phone text messages. EnableM offers e-learning courses in the form of preparatory guides, sample tests, puzzles, and other tools for MBA, CA, Medical, Law, or Engineering courses. The idea is to provide affordable education that is independent of class rooms. It is also far cheaper than computers, considering that more and more people own a mobile phone: the current number of mobile phone users in the country is nearly 300 million and it is growing almost 10 million per month.

The second company is ZMQ Software Systems, which will launch a program later this year that is particularly aimed at women: it allows them to receive prenatal advice via text messages. This new service includes “weekly tips on what to eat, what vaccines to get, and when to get check-ups” [Snippet taken from here].

Both services show directions how the mobile phone can be used to provide health care and foster eduction in lesser developed areas, for people (especially women), who do not have access to those resources. While this idea seems to be both simple and promising there are still many challenges that remain to be solved. For instance, women have less often access to mobile phones than men.

In May 2008 the Women of Uganda Network organized a workshop entitled “ICTs: Is your wealth a click away?“. They invited people to contribute to a set of questions. Answers posted on the website revealed important issues from users’ perspectives:

It’s still a theory because the common woman has no access to ICTs.
It’s a theory and only reliable for a few urban literates.
ICTs would be more helpful if more content was available in local languages. [Snippet taken from here]

It will be interesting to see how the service for pregnant women in India will perform once it is available and what can be learnt for similar services for LDCs.

[Thanks to Martin for pointing me to the article on]

Tags: , , , , ,
Mobile phone-based education and health care for LDCs
was published on 22.09.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
1 Comment AddThis Feed Button

How Weblogs help Women in Bangladesh to create new Skills

The Nari Jibon project is a training program in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which started in 2005. It provides short term training programs for the poor and under-privileged women in the area. The women attending the program are taught English, but the program especially aims to educate them in computer skills. This includes computer office programs, computer repair, graphics & web design, ICT, and photography.

The goal of the project is to help poor women develop new skills, which would allow them to earn some money for their livelihood and make them more self-reliant.

Last year the project received a grant from Global/Rising Voices for the incorporation of weblogs in their training programs. Using weblogs within classes gives the Bangladeshi women a voice and allows them to enhance their computer and photography skills. It’s impressive to see how enthusiastic women taking part in the program are about their weblogs and how a simple ICT technology, such as weblogs, may help improving the life of people.

See the Nari Jibon project website and the Global/Rising Voices website for more information.

(The image is from, originally posted on Flickr by Kiraka. Thanks to Martin for pointing me to this project.)

Tags: , , , ,
How Weblogs help Women in Bangladesh to create new Skills
was published on 09.09.2008 by Martin Tomitsch. It files under global
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
No Comments AddThis Feed Button

| newer posts »