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 India (4)


TED goes out on a limb with Sugata Mitra

The 2013 TED Prize winner is the charismatic, deadly smart Sugata Mitra, whose TED-prize wish is to build a School in the Cloud that supports students around the world to engage in in self-organized learning. 

Thumbnail for version as of 21:04, 2 December 2010

What's the risk to TED? Sugata (I've had a few drinks with him, I'm comfortable calling him "Sugata" although he'd probably call me, "Who?") notoriously avoids serious experimental assessments of the hole-in-the-wall computer, has proposed self-organizing learning as a cure for almost all educational and social ills (e.g., growth of terrorism among rural South Asian youth), and is following in the questionable footsteps of Nicholas Negroponte in postulating the benefits of teacher-less (teacher-free?) learning. 

Fine enough, let's drop a $1 million on this experiment. Sugata might be the only person who can pull it off, based on his experience, notoriety and single-minded pursuit of learning for the unschooled. 

But it's a prestigious award. Is there follow-up? If the resuts are lousy are we asked to say, "Ah, well, it was high-risk, after all"?

But my main question is, Is there any risk to TED's prestige? Next time they drop their award on an outlier-awardee will people again toot the horns of celebration, or will they get that sense of deja vú all over again? 


Of Automobiles and economic growth: India & China throwdown

China has just announced its intention to become the leader in manufacture of hybrid and electric vehicles. Next door, India's Tata Manufacturing Nano, the $2,500 sub-sub-sub-mini-nofrills car, is set to launch this week. The two programs reflect two wildly different approaches to economic growth and economic justice. Not to mention the environment...

Tata, which is the largest manufacturer in India, is aiming squarely at India's domestic market, and at what we might call the upper triangle of the bottom of the pyramid. No air bags, no air, no antilock brakes, the Nano i


... a vehicle meant to herald a revolution by making it possible for the world's poor to purchase their first car."

But the Nano's going to be marketed within India for years before going global (if indeed global it ever goes). Tata has calculated that the Nano will be well positioned to attract the broadly rising fortunes of the Indian population. (The idea no doubt sounded better in 2007.) But at least in its marketing rhetoric, Tata is observing that poor people need wheels too, and that public transportation in India is inefficient, unreliable and harsh. Cars, essentially, are positioned as part and parcel of the ongoing (altho extremely incremental) approach to economic equality in India. 

The Chinese government (not a particular Chinese manufacturer) is in contrast focusing on a "leapfrog strategy" in relation to global automobile sales. China manufacturers are well behind Japanese, U.S., South Korean and European competitors--I believe Buick is the best selling automobile brand in China--but the playing field in relation to hybrids/electrics is still pretty level. Plus, China (and Tianjin, P.M. Wen Jiabao's home town) is a leader in battery manufacturing. 

The Chinese strategy seems aimed at gaining a big chunk, even the biggest chunk, of this emerging market niche worldwide. One model discussed by the NY Times will jump from US $14,600 to ~US $30,000 before subsidies, as a result of the switch from internal combustion to an electric powerplant and storage. (Per capita GDP is around US $6,000.)

As important, given China's power-generation infrastructure--75% of which runs on coal--the net reduction in greenhouse-gas output will be small (19% according to a McKinsey study). Of course there are other benefits, not least of which is reduced reliance on oil imports in proportion to domestic sales of electrics. (However these benefits accrue whether the electrics are produced within China or not.)

So, what are key points of comparison?

  • The Chinese government seeks to take advantage of the semi-global reliance on the automobile while doing little to address it's own bottom-of-the-pyramid market.
  • Tata (and by extension the Indian government) seeks to satisfy domestic demand with a product that might eventually see widespread export to an emerging global middle class. 
  • The Chinese approach has moderate domestic upside in relation to reduced greenhouse emissions, with few costs in relation to increased traffic congestion and related problems.
  • The Tata/Indian approach has the potential to be an environmental disaster. 

Interestingly, manufacturing for both approaches will likely hit 250 - 500,000 vehicles by 2011. Roughly the same. But gross returns from the Chinese approach will be wildly greater. 


Exit the Nano, pursued by the Nano-killers

Interesting to see the emergence of parallels in perceptions of the low-cost car market and the low-cost computer market. From Wired's article about the sub-$3,000 Tata: 

Now that Tata Motors has shown the way, competitors are scrambling to offer their own budget vehicles. Hyundai has announced a $3,700 car. Renault-Nissan has teamed with Indian motorcycle maker Bajaj to put 400,000 of its own ultra-low-cost cars on the road by 2011. General Motors is rumored to be working on a Nano-killer with China's Wuling Automotive. 

Time was (and still is) when the OLPC initiative was seen as launching a wave of innovation around netbooks, which led to the Classmate, the ASUS eeepc (which was initially based on the Classmate reference design) and an explosion of competitors. As far as I can tell, however, the manufacturers who have jumped successfully into this market aren't pursuing strategies at all like OLPCs; they aren't even focusing with any real diligence on education sales. 

I'm generally skeptical of models in which first movers are seen as suddenly alerting competitors or copycats to potential markets that had been neglected because, well, no one been able to realize a combination of design and price that would appeal to it. My skepticism increases when it's a market that opens less as a result of conceptual innovation (e.g. Twitter, YouTube) than of re-engineering and re-combining pre-existing tools. Yes, I do realize that the XO is a  swell feat of collaborative design specifically targeting (at least at first) children in developing countries. But the marketplace is demonstrating that manufacturers don't need one-off interfaces, learner-centric apps, or mesh networking to have sales. And HP (via e-inclusion) and other companies were tracking developing-country and emerging-market trends well before the OLPC initiative; Intel had already launched their 

In the case of Tata and the Nano, efforts by competitors are at least partly defensive: Manufacturers don't want to risk losing all of a global market that might reach 10 million per year by 2019 (my back-of-the-envelope estimate). However, Nano-killers will only generate nano-profits, and productive capacity won't be sensibly diverted from higher-margin models. Remember, Buick is the largest-selling brand in China. (Although the situation is slightly different in the cheap-device market, the trend toward higher-cost/higher-markup products demonstrates the sway that profit margins hold over marketing and production.)  My sense is that other manufacturers will direct some of their considerable resources into low-cost designs and, eventually, manufacturing, but that this was a space that they'd been tracking for quite some time and they simply aren't about to let Tata get too far along without having at least to face up to competition, in its South Asian backyard and, perhaps, elsewhere.


Specialized hardware vs SMS, you be the judge

The Neurosynatpic ReMeDi MDAU (Multi-parameter Data Acquisition Unit) telemedicine tool assesses critical diagnostic services measurements and prepares them for transmission back to a clinic or hospital. The diagnoses provided are:

  • Electro-Cardiogram (ECG) 
  • Blood pressure 
  • Oximeter (your blood's oxygen saturation level) 
  • Auscultation (what a stethoscope tells you) 
  • Temperature
  • Heart rate

ReMeDi, the basic version, is designed for use, at least theoretically, in village kiosks such as those provided by nLogue. Cost is about US $250. ReMeDi, plugged into an n-Logue computer or someone else's hardware, is probeware.

By delivering diagnostic services in villages that don't have doctors, ReMeDi at least potentially saves villagers the costs and lost opportunities of traveling to towns or cities when they need to see doctors. (And if you're making the benchmark, $2 per day, you would: a) like to work as many days as possible; b) prefer not spending money when you don't need to.) So ReMeDi has some potential to improve morbidity rates (e.g., general health-related suffering) and cut end-user healthcare costs. ReMeDi also has the potential to increase revenues among early-adopter physicians and, of equal importance, deliver a bit of a revenue stream to the n-Logue. (Prof. Ashok JhunJhunwala, god-father of n-Logue, is also among the guiding lights of NeuroSynaptic.) 

Now, I tend to argue that there's room for all kinds of solutions in the big tent of technology-for-development. (I mean, technology covers a lot, from pencils I suppose to robotic arms.) But in keeping with a flurry of information about telemedicine, it's interesting to compare the NeuroSynaptic approach to the effective use of SMS (Short Messaging Service) by healthcare-related NGOs in Africa, India and elsewhere.

SMS supports cheap one-way and two-way communication among healthcare providers and patients. It's been used to build HIV/AIDS awareness, (Text to Change, Uganda), 
support and track drug-regimen compliance (the SIMpill medical adherence system is one among many), as well as to support diagnostic-and-treatment programs. 

ReMeDi is low-cost, but the ability of Neurosynaptic to continue to offer the product requires 10s of 1,000s of kiosk operators and other providers of rural Internet access to offer the product and service and, critically, make money by doing so. (it's a bit hard for me to grasp the means by which kiosk operators connect to providers of diagnoses and medicines.) ReMeDi is state of the art, but it's only as effective as the training that the kiosk operator receives and his (her) ability to market the ReMeDi service. (In the pilot test supported by IDRC, an initial stream of users shrank to a trickle, possibly because the kiosk operators failed to operate the ReMeDi device effectively.)

ReMeDi, in its state-of-the-art-ness and its robustness, creates challenges in relation to training, asymmetrical partnership-building, and supply chain. (If the patient has to travel to get the prescription, her initial savings in avoiding a doctor visit are lost.)

SMS creates challenges based on the simplicity of the communication medium. Short text, no media. There's a bit of work involved in establishing broad- or narrow-cast message dissemination (although organizations like Frontline SMS are striving to reduce the work involved).

Most critically, ReMeDi requires several layers of inter-mediation, most noticeably by Neurosynaptic, by the kiosk-operating organization (n-Logue) and by the all-too-critical-and-all-too-unlikely-to-be-effective kiosk operator at the village level. 

Again, it's not that these variant approaches exclude each other. But if I had a few dollars to support a scalable, sustainable, effective tool for reducing morbidity and/or mortality rates across a rural region, I would see what I could make happen with SMS and leave the more complex solutions for another player. 

If I were prescription-drug manufacturer Rambaxi, however, I might look into ReMeDi as _part_ of a solution that included druggist-to-villager delivery of my products. That is, if someone else would fund hardware and connection for Internet access.