Selected publications (.pdf)

"Education Change, Leadership and the Knowledge Society" 
Global e-Schools Initiative (GeSCI)  

Survey of ICT in education in the Caribbean
Volume 1: Regional trends & analysis
Volume 2: Country reports

Using technology to train teachers:
Appropriate uses of ICT for
teacher professional developmen
infoDev (Mary Burns, co-author)

Project evaluation:
Uganda rural school-based telecenters

World Bank Institute
(Sara Nadel, co-author)

The Educational Object Economy:
Alternatives in authoring &
aggregation of educational software 

Interactive Learning Environments
(Purchase or subscription req'd) 

Development of multimedia resources 
UNESCO (Cesar Nunes, co-author)

Real Access/Real Impact
Teresa Peters &
(hosted for reference; RIP TMP) 


Learning, technology & development


Entries in Africa (6)


Zimbabwe! What's going on? 

You won't believe this. The 2012 data in CIA World Factbook shows Zimbabwe as number 2 (TWO!) in terms of in-migration, or population growth due to immigation: 

1 Qatar
2012 est.
2 Zimbabwe
2012 est.

For points of reference, the US is number 26, with an in-migration rate of 3.62; countries ranked 72 through 103 (Azerbaijan to Yemen) post 0.00; Bulgaria, where I am currently, posts in-migration of -2.84 (which is out-migration, obviously) and is ranked 174; the most out-migrating people are in the Northern Mariana Islands, ranked 221 and posting an immigration population change rate of -41.32. 

But Zimbabwe? Zimbabwe! What is happening there that's leading to this influx? Hints?


Competition (between giants) is a good thing I suppose

Google has (lightly) funded a competition for the creation of Wikipedia pages in Kiswahili by university students in Tanzania and Kenya. (First place for most entries gets a laptop.) Why this sudden interest and largesse? Because Google's in a race against Bing for most eyeballs, and there are a few million Internet users in Sub-Saharan Africa who might -- if they aren't multilingual university students, for example -- look for information in Kiswahili. This is out of about 100 million Kiswahili speakers. 

“Our algorithms are primed and ready to give you the answer you are looking for, but the pipeline of information just isn’t there,” said Gabriel Stricker, Google’s spokesman on search issues. “The challenge for searches in many languages for us no longer is search quality. Our ability to get the right answer is hindered by the lack of quality and lack of quantity of material on the Internet.”

The "right answer," just to be clear, might be accurate and true, but it must be in a language that's appropriate for the searcher. Students quoted in the article have posted the same information to both the English and the Kiswahili Wikipediae, but at least one English version has been earmarked for removal if citations aren't added. 

But the question unanswered by the Times reporter, Noam Cohen, is how creating a specific page on the World Wide Web confers advantage on Google and not on Bing. Aren't they both crawling the same Internet? Is Bing less poly-lingual? I dunno.


Mobile banking launches in five African countries

Tom Burgis reports in today's Financial Times:

Africa's biggest mobile phone operator yesterday launched what it hopes will become the world's largest mobile banking service,

MTN's new scheme, which follows the success of a similar Kenyan venture by Vodafone of the UK and local operator Safaricom, accelerates the provision of basic financial services to people long considered "unbankable". It uses the popularity of mobile phones to offset the absence of bank branches.

Subscribers in an initial five countries - Uganda, Ghana, Cameroon, Nigeria and Ivory Coast - will be able to deposit, transfer and withdraw funds on handsets.

The Johannesburg-based group is using software from Fundamo, the world's largest specialist mobile financial services company, in a deal worth $10m.

In a sign of the potential obstacles mobile companies face as they seek to wrest some banking services from financial institutions, MTN has also entered partnerships with local banks in each territory in order to meet central banks' requirements.

It will generate revenue by charging transaction fees.

MTN is also running pilots in other countries.


mHealth, SMS, and African schools

I stopped in at Wayan Vota's TechSalon on mHealth at inveneo on Tuesday morning. (mHeatlh = "mobile health," essentially the use of phones, handheld computers and other portable devices to meet healthcare needs and improve healthcare systems.)

Karen Coppock, VP of VitalWave Consulting, presented information about their new-ish report culling trends and examples from over 50 mHealth projects. (A project that I worked on in 2003, Teledoc, was among the group they looked at.) 

The VitalWave report shows mHealth used for: 

  • Remote monitoring (6 projects) 
  • Remote data collection (14 projects)
  • Communication and training for healthcare workers (5 projects) 
  • Disease and epidemic outbreak training (7 projects)
  • Diagnostic and treatment support (9 projects -- including the now-defunct but lamented Teledoc!)
  • Education and awareness (6 projects)

Much, much attention was focused on SMS, used for one-to-one communication and used as a broadcast / narrowcast medium to reach mobile-phone users. SMS--because it's cheap, it's nearly ubiquitous (for those who can read), and connects directly to incentives in the form of airtime--is becoming the killer app for health, agriculture and community development in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

But not in education. Sure there are a few initiatives. And teachers have relatively high levels of mobile-phone ownership, (OK, I'm guessing here, prove me wrong). But the primary constituents--kids--don't own phones. And the few mLearning initiatives that target educators and schools, a couple in  Tanzania and South Africa, haven't really taken off. 


Here's an example

Vodacom and Nokia were collaborating to offer mobile based educational content to remote schools. The Project 'BrigeIT' uses a Nokia N95 and a TV set on the client side. A teacher is able to send an SMS to request material and a file is downloaded to the phone on such a request. This multi media file can be played back on the TV set. There are still some issues on energy that the project is grappling with.

Television -- even without broadcast content -- is NOT the killer app for schools in the region. Electricity, toxicity (what happens with those CRTs?) and the high cost of usable content are all barriers. Not to mention the fact that the data-download over Vodacom's GPRS network is going to cost _somebody_, even if that somebody is Vodacom for the purposes of the field test. 

Finally, why not just load ALL the damn content on a DVD and send the thing to the school so the teacher can browse without peering through the tiny aperture of her mobile phone screen at whatever index of, say, social studies content is sent in reply to her SMS? (Sure, portable DVD players cost somewhat more than CRT-based TVs, but they use way more power and release way more toxics at the end of their lifecycles. [Well, not way more, perhaps. But lots of lead...])

Where's the SMS-based teacher-development project that drives teachers to upgrade their subject knowledge and try new approaches in the classroom? Or OUT of the classroom?

(More on SMS and schools, and on the relationship of mHealth & eHealth, soon.) 


The end of aid, again?

NY Times magazine profiles the economist Dambisa Moyo, a native of Zambia by way of Harvard and Oxford. Her upcoming book, "Dead Aid," calls (apparently) for an end to overseas development assistance, such as that provided by USAID, DfID, the World Bank, and so on, within five years. Ms. Moyo argues that China, which has received small amounts of aid over the past 40 years, has far outstripped African countries during that period based on hard work, and lots of it.

Think about it this way — China has 1.3 billion people, only 300 million of whom live like us, if you will, with Western living standards. There are a billion Chinese who are living in substandard conditions. Do you know anybody who feels sorry for China? Nobody.

Foreign aid, on the other hand, fosters a do-nothing culture that de-emphasizes entrepreneurialism and self-reliance while encouraging corruption on the part of political leaders and bureaucrats. 

Who could argue with her premises?

(I was driving south in Rwanda once, along the eastern shore of Lake Kivu heading down to the border of Congo. The road was semi-bad, we were traveling about 20 km/hr. In one town, kids lined the street and chanted from their French primers, "Donnez-moi un biscuit, donnez-moi un biscuit." The driver, Felix, stopped our vehicle and said to the children, "You have learned a bad lesson.")

William Easterly of course has pushed similar thinking for the past decade or so, citing evidence that only direct foreign investment--not aid--has been linked to improvements in per-capita GDP. And as I've written elsewhere, governments in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia are less than willing to accept World Bank funding--at least, this was the case in summer of 2008--preferring to look for ways to access the Bank's specialists' expertise and that of Bank consultants rather than assuming debt and the strings attached to it.

Does the convergence of these events and opinions signal that we might be reaching an inflection point in our relationship to overseas assistance?

Sure, yeah, maybe. In the U.S., microfinance (don't think large-scale, such as FINCA and Grameen, think micro-donor-driven is still wildly popular, in part because it's more in line with Americans' self-images and bootstrap ethic. But Easterly, IIRC, also demonstrates that micro-finance doesn't lead to economic development. Individuals benefit, but there's no dissemination of the entrepreneurial spirit and, of much greater importance, no significant increase in the money supply. The micro-entrepreneurs make out (although less clearly and less often than is touted by Grameen), but it's at the expense of other, less-well-capitalized or less-well-run local businesses and individuals.

So, per Easterly and per Moyo, the goal is DFI, direct foreign investment. But it's difficult to imagine that a competition among kleptocratic governments in African and Asian countries and multi-national corporations in rich ones, plus China, is the most effective way to generate real benefits for rural and urban poor. The phrase "Race to the bottom" doesn't adequately encapsulate the environmental, cultural and economic costs of this free-for-all.

(I've seen the tailings that flow out of the Freeport-McMoRan coppermines in Timika, West Papua, still. I've been told that the majority Indonesia shareholder in that mine is a single anonymous individual (nee Suharto). The copper, gold and revenues have unimpeded transit out of Papua. Sure, perhaps there's a trickle-over effect when mine-derived capital is reinvested in an Indonesian mobile-phone company, but the local costs clearly exceed the local benefits.)

The answer, I'm sure, isn't telling poor-country governments to "brace up" for an end of aid and a return to private-sector primacy. Nor is it unloading millions in unwanted aid from above. More from Ms Moyo:

‘‘Dead Aid,’’ as your book is called, is particularly hard on rock stars. Have you met Bono? 
I have, yes, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last year. It was at a party to raise money for Africans, and there were no Africans in the room, except for me.

I contend that the answer lies in a much more nuanced mix of aid and investment, with both types of in-flow subject to greater oversight, much more participation in decision-making by the grassroots, and with measures that balance social spending--on, say, schools and hospitals--with support for small and micro-businesses with large-scale DFI. World Bank personnel, as far as I can tell, have some idea of the problem and of solutions of this style; it's doubtful that they have the skills or mechanisms to pull together such an admixture. 

Admittedly, it's tougher than telling Bono to get stuffed.