ICTs for the SDGs: economic agendas


group-smallThe ITU is preparing a new book, provisionally to be entitled “ICT4SDGs: Economic Growth, Innovation and
Job Creation” in advance of the WTDC meeting in Buenos Aires in October 2017 http://www.itu.int/net/events/eventdetails.asp… . This has been explored in some detail over the last two days at a fascinating discussion convened in Geneva.

sdg-groupI have been invited to lead on a 6,000 word chapter, provisionally entitled “Sustainability in Development: Critical Elements” that has an initial summary as follows: “the chapter identifies how ICTs engage with the sustainability agenda and the various elements of the ecosystem (such as: education, finance/capital, infrastructure, policy, market, culture/environment, opportunities) and the stakeholders that are indispensable for ensuring resilient and sustainable development activities in developing countries in spite of some chronic shortages coupled with fast changing and fluid situations that can negatively hamper the efforts”.

I want this chapter very much to be a collective, bottom-up effort, and am exploring various collective ways of generating content – although this is hugely difficult given the tight word limit! At this stage, it would be great to receive suggestions as to (a) what content the chapter should focus on, and (b) examples of case studies of successes and failures with respect to the use of ICTs for sustainable development. Please share any thoughts with me – before the end of September!

For those who may be unfamiliar with my own critical comments on the linkages between ICTs and the SDG agenda do see https://unwin.wordpress.com/…/icts-and-the-failure-of-the-…/, and on the abuse of the term ecosystem https://unwin.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/icts-and-ecosystems/ . Rest assured, though, that the chapter for the ITU will reflect very different perspectives, and I hope that it will indeed represent the interests and concerns of the wider ICT4D community.

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Dubai in 1980


Continuing the digitization of some of my early slide collections, I post below a selection of pictures from Dubai in 1980.  I remember it then undergoing a building boom, but that was of a completely different scale from what has subsequently happened over the last 30 years or so.  I wish I had been there in the 1960s, when by all reports it was a small, sleepy town built around the harbour! However, my pictures do still capture something of the old character of the city, and the busy waterfront.  I loved wandering around the Bastakiya quarter, and remember being fascinated by the wind towers and architecture. It is good to see the sympathetic restoration that has taken place in the quarter in recent years, but it does not have quite the same atmosphere that it did then!  It was good to wander in the suq and see all of the glittering gold that i could never afford! I also loved just watching the small boats and dhows plying their trade along the creek. My favourite hotel was undoubtedly the Meridien, a quiet oasis where I could escape from the business of the city, but surprisingly I never took a photograph if it!

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Abu Dhabi in 1980


I first visited Abu Dhabi in 1980; there was construction everywhere and part of me wished I had been there 20 years earlier!   The changes since then, though, have been enormous, and it is very hard to recognise any of what I experienced then in the modern city of today.  As part of my ongoing project of digitsing my slides from  30-40 years ago, I hope that the selection below captures something of the city as it was at that time: the juxtaposition of small new mosques with high-rise buildings; the contrasts between the greenness of the agricultural projects at Al Ain, and the urban concrete of Abu Dhabi city itself; the differences in wealth between local citizens and immigrant labourers who were mainly from South Asia; the belief that pumping oil could create cities, whereas pumping water from the underground aquifers could turn the desert green; the rather sleepy atmosphere that pervaded the place; the beauty and colours of the dhows on the blue, blue sea; the markets on the streets where one could buy everything from animals to all sorts of imported goods from containers; the mysteries of the suq…

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Against “EdTech”…


Sitting in on a recent donor-stakeholder discussion about the use of ICTs to support education for poor people in developing countries, inspired me to formalize my critical thoughts on the increasingly common usage of the term “EdTech”.   There are three main reasons why this terminology is so problematic:

  • children-in-malawi-schoolFirst, the term EdTech places the emphasis on the technology rather than the educational and learning outcomes. Far too many initiatives that have sought to introduce technology systematically into education have failed because they have focused on the technology rather than on the the education.  The use of the term EdTech therefore places emphasis on a failed way of thinking.  Technology will only be of benefit for poor and marginalized people if it is used to deliver real learning outcomes, and this is the core intended outcome of any initiative. It is the learning that matters, rather than the technology.
  • jica-stm-ptc-computersSecond, it implies that there is such a thing as Educational Technology. The reality is that most technology that is used in schools or for education more widely has very little to do specifically with education or learning.  Word processing and presentational software, spreadsheets, and networking software are nothing specifically to do with education, although they are usually what is taught to teachers in terms of IT skills! Such software is, after all, usually called Office software, as in Microsoft Office, or Open Office. Likewise, on the hardware side, computers, mobile phones and electronic whiteboards are not specifically educational but are rather more general pieces of technology that companies produce to generate a profit.  Learning content, be it open or proprietary, is perhaps the nearest specifically educational technology that there is, but people rarely even think of this when they use the term EdTech!
  • intel-classmate-zambia-2010Third, it is fascinating to consider why the term EdTech has been introduced to replace others such as e-learning or ICT for education (ICT4E) which clearly place the emphasis on the learning and the education.  The main reason for this is that the terminology largely reflects the interests of private sector technology companies, and especially those from the US. The interests underlying the terminology are a fundamental part of the problem.  EdTech is being used and sold as a concept primarily so that companies can sell technology that has little specifically to do with education, and indeed so that researchers can be funded to study its impact!

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Those who use the term EdTech are all conspiring to place the emphasis on the technology rather than on the education.  This is often deliberate, but always misguided!  Many of those who use the term are also concerned primarily in generating profits from education rather than delivering effective, life-changing opportunities for people to learn.  If you ever use the word again, please think twice about it, and preferably use something more appropriate!

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Hats (periodic markets) in South Bihar, 1976-1977


This is the last, and most important, in my series of images from 1976 and 1977 when I was in what was then South Bihar (now Jharkhand) in India.  I had the enormous privilege of assisting Sudhir Wanmali who was then undertaking research on the hats, or periodic markets in Singbhum District.  He taught me so much, not formally but just by being with him, watching and listening to how he interviewed, and above all by seeing the ways in which he interacted with people.  His wisdom, enthusiasm, generosity and passion for research were, and indeed still are, inspirational.

The hats are markets that take place regularly in different locations, and provide an opportunity not only for rural people to sell to the itinerant traders and others in the market, but also to buy things that they need and do not produce themselves.  As the following images show, it was possible to buy and sell almost anything you might need there, from the cloth, pots and brightly coloured glass bangles brought in by traders, to sweet potatoes, onions, tomatoes and many other vegetables, as well as the cattle and goats being sold by the farmers.  Some traders also collected products such as lac, collected in the forests by the people who lived there, and others would also buy up small amounts of paddy that farmers brought for sale. At the end of the day, I remember rice beer being sold in simple cups made of leaves.  The pictures below are mainly from places such as Bangaon, Hat Gamharia, Nakti, Tebo and Jagannathpur.

Sudhir’s work was published in an excellent monograph – Wanmali, S. (1981) Periodic Markets and Rural Development in India, Delhi: BR – but is also written up in other papers, including:

At the time, I was also working on medieval England and drew parallels between marketing systems that had been created there in the 14th century, and those that I had experienced in Singbhum. This was published as:

  • T. Unwin (1981) Rural marketing in medieval Nottinghamshire, Journal of Historical Geography, 7, 231–51.

I very much hope that these pictures, now some 40 years old, not only contribute to the archive of Jharkhand’s past, but also reflect the beauty of this special part of the world.  I often wonder how the lives of the many people I met there turned out…

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Agriculture and rural life in South Bihar, 1976-1977


Working with my dear friend and colleague, Sudhir Wanmali, in what was then rural South Bihar (now Jharkhand) in the mid-1970s was one of the most influential times of my life.  It taught me so much: that rural people are universally exploited by those living in urban areas; that rural life in South Asia is incredibly hard; and that South Bihar (as it was then known) is amazingly beautiful.  I very much hope that the images below show something of that inspiration, but they cannot sufficiently capture the smells and sounds of rural life in India in the 1970s.

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Small towns and villages in South Bihar and West Bengal, 1976 and 1977


Continuing digitizing the slides from my research and travels in India in 1976 and 1977, I share here some pictures of small towns and villages in what was then South Bihar (now Jharkhand) and West Bengal.  These include pictures of the towns of Chaibasa and Chakradharpur, as well as several villages in this beautiful part of India.  I remember particularly the paintings on the walls of the houses in the villages, and some of the writing on them as well, not least the slogan “Fight for malaria”! The pictures here also show the sadness of smallpox, with the solitary gravestone, and also other such stones which I was told marked village boundaries.  There are also images of tile and brick making, and the sequence closes with a village school, which I had forgotten about but now makes me think of all of the other schools, particularly in Africa, that I have visited in the last 15 or so years.   Other rural, agricultural scenes will follow in a future post!

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