It was so good to be in Macau and Shenzhen recently in my role as a member of the Advisory Board of the United Nations University Computing and Society Institute. During my visit, colleagues at the Institute had arranged for me to participate in Teledifusão de Macau (TDM)’s prime time Talk Show with Kelsey Wilhelm. This was a great opportunity to share some of my current thinking about the interface between digital technologies and humans, and Kelsey made sure that it was a lively and fun half hour discussion – really grateful to him for this!
The show is now available on YouTube, and begins with an overview of the current state of ICT for development, before going on to discuss
- ways through which people with disabilities can be empowered through the use of technology,
- the importance of new technologies being inclusive, because otherwise they lead to new inequalities,
- working “with” the poorest and most marginalised rather than for them,
- the role of new technologies such as AI and blockchain in serving the interests of the rich rather than the poor,
- cyborgs and the creation of machine-humans and human-machines, and finally
- some of the ethical issues that need to be discussed if we are to balance the benefits of new technologies whilst limiting their harm.
I very much hope that what I have to say is thought-provoking and interesting. We need much wider public debate on these issues!
Despite limited digital connectivity, I just thought I would upload a short summary of my upcoming keynote at the Commonwealth of Learning’s Seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum this afternoon to encourage productive debate! Its central argument is that we are not delivering as effectively as we could in using ICTs for education at all levels, because of very explicit interests that are serving to limit this effectiveness. (Later on 17th December: the slides that accompanied the keynote have now been made available by COL)
I begin with a short overview of ten good practices that need to be in place to ensure effective use of ICTs in education:
- It’s the learning that matters, not the technology
- Teachers must be involved from the beginning
- Sustainability built in from the start
- Supporting infrastructure must be in place
- Appropriate content must be developed
- Equality of access for all learners
- Continual monitoring and evaluation
- Appropriate maintenance contracts
- Using the technology 24/7
- Good practices, rather than best
So, why are these not done?
I focus here first on the observation that ICTs generally increase inequalities unless very specific actions are taken to ensure that the poorest and most marginalised are able to benefit.
I then explore the various interests that tend to limit delivery of the above ten practices, focusing especially on the activities of the private sector, and especially hardware and software companies, connectivity companies and content developers.
In so doing, I also draw on some of the increasing amount of empirical evidence that the use of computers in education is actually damaging learning.
Implications for innovation
In the final section, I explore some of the implications of these trends for innovation and creativity, paying specific attention to five themes:
- Content replication
- Language and literacy
- Personalised searching
- Privacy and failure
In drawing these reflections to an end, I argue that one way forward is to work towards new and effective models of multi-stakeholder partnerships for education, that address education as something much more important, much more complex, and much more exciting than merely as a vehicle for economic transformation.
At today’s WSIS Forum session on ICTs and disability (#ICT4DD) led by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organsation and the UNESCO Chair in ICTD at Royal Holloway, University of London, more than 35 people in Geneva and some 15 people participating externally came together to explore ways through which accessibility/disability issues can be included more effectively in national ICT strategies. Three breakout groups came up with some 17 main reasons why disability issues are not more included within such policies and strategies, and then identified 7 practical ways through which these challenges can be overcome. Details of the outcomes are summarised in the mind map below (click on the image itself for a larger version, or the link below for a full sized version).
WSIS Disability session
Solutions recommended included:
- The need to build awareness
- Mainstreaming accessibility
- Providing incentives, whilst also using regulation and enforcement
- Education as a means for affecting cultural change
- Using a quality label as a means for creating a minimum standard
- Capacity development
- The involvement of all stakeholders (Nothing about us without us)
Thanks to everyone who participated, and to all of the session partners including the ITU, G3ICT, the University of Michigan, OCAD University, the Daisy Consortium, and the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure initiative.
Researchers at the Technology and Social Change Group in the University of Washington in Seattle (Joyojeet Pal, Jay Freistadt, Michele Frix, and Phil Neff) have recently released an important report on the impact of technology training on the employment prospects of at-risk youth and people with disabilities in five countries in Latin America.
The report’s findings are “broadly divided by the themes that emerged in the coded transcripts of our conversations on the ground. Under environmental factors, we discuss issues around the prevalent discourse of technology that underlines the ways in which the various stakeholders imagine the role of computers and technology training within the larger social and economic ecosystems. An important environmental factor is the aspirational environment, for the role it plays in peoples’ willingness to participate in such training programs. Finally, structural issues around the labor market form the third set of environmental factors that are extremely important, given that both populations discussed here have histories of geographical and institutional exclusion from formal employment opportunities”.
It is good to see these important issues examined in detail; ICTs can indeed make a significant difference to the lived experiences of people with disabilities and at-risk youth