It was a great honour to be asked by a group of young Chinese interns at the United Nations University Institute in Macau to give a short keynote address at the hybrid event that they were organising from there on 30th April in partnership with The Institute for AI International Governance of Tsinghua University (I-AIIG), forming part of the World Data Forum satellite event being convened by the Institute in the city of Macau. As their introduction to the event summarised:
The younger generation are often seen as digital natives who have more exposure and access to data technology than older generations. They are also more likely to use data technology for learning, innovation, participation and empowerment. However, this also means that they face unique opportunities and challenges related to data that need to be explored and addressed. As the satellite event of this year’s World Data Forum, this youth forum will take “Digital and Youth” as the main theme, adhere to youth leadership and youth participation, aiming to provide a platform for dialogue and exchange among different stakeholders who are interested in or affected by data and its impact on youth.
In the brief 15 minutes available, I chose to focus on three proposals:
We need new, more inclusive modes of inter-generational dialogue about digital
Just because it is possible to do something, does not mean that it is right or good to do so.
Digital tech is all too often assumed to be inherently good – but we need to mitigate the harms to ensure any good can prevail
We must all consider the environmental impact of data, and digital tech more widely.
Digital tech is often the cause of environmental harms rather than a solution
The event was great fun, and the organisers had brought together many leading young academics from across China working on digital tech in general, and data in particular, divided into four main sessions:
Youth Work on Digital Humanities in Empowering the Cultural Legacy
Digital technology and Wellness
Artificial Intelligence Cutting Edge
Personal Information Protection and Data Security Governance
Many thanks to everyone involved for making this such an interesting and enjoyable experience.
Clearing out boxes of old books and reports recently, I was struck by how many ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) initiatives there have been over the last 20 years, many of which have simply repeated the mistakes of their predecessors. Most have failed to make real and significant improvements in the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people. Quick looks at Weigel and Waldburger’s (2004) seminal book, and the ICT4 all Exhibition catalogue for the 2005 WSIS Summit in Tunis, remind us that most of the problems we are addressing in 2021 are broadly similar to those that were being addressed 20 years ago: how to enable the most marginalised to benefit from digital tech; moving from rhetoric to action; how to deliver effective partnerships; the importance of local languages; financing challenges; or how to ensure access…
An invitation to give a lecture at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan as part of a Master’s course on Learning and Teaching with Technology later this week provided me with the opportunity to reflect at some length on this thorny issue, and to come up with some suggestions as to why we continue to reinvent the wheel, and what we need to change if we really want to work with the poorest and most marginalised in delivering effective ICT4D initiatives that will help to empower them.
It also reminded me that even when I first started teaching in universities in the mid-1970s I used multimedia technologies such as slides (diapositives), aerial photos, film clips, overhead transparencies – as well as books. There is very little fundamentally new in the use of ICTs in education; it’s just the detail of the tech that has changed. As long ago as the early 1990s I thus enjoyed delivering lectures to students across London through the University Live-Net TV network, and in the middle of that decade enjoyed participated in the work of the Computers in Teaching Initiative in the UK. Hopefully we had learnt by then many of the challenges and success factors that previous colleagues involved in delivering education at a distance had shared with us.
Why are we failing so badly to learn the lessons of the past?
Reflecting on this simple question, I came up with six main suggestions as to why valuable lessons from previous ICT initiatives, especially in the education sector, do not seem to have been sufficiently learnt:
Lack of background research
Increased emphasis on innovation
The problem with “self”
Commercialisation and marketisation of education
Insufficient intergenerational dialogue
I am sure there are many more, and I look forward to exploring these ideas further with interested colleagues. Each needs to be fleshed out in much more detail, but the following brief notes cover some of the aspects that may be of particular importance.
Lack of background research
The Google (or DuckDuckGo) first page syndrome
only following up links on the first page (or two)
only reading the most recently published material
Too many people failing to explore and learn from what has been done before
Too much of a hurry?
Believing only the latest is best?
Nothing old is worthwhile?
A strong sense of self-belief, and that there is no need to read (see further below)
Past research and practice are inaccessible or unavailable
but this isn’t really true – many of us have written at length about our previous experiences
Overcoming failure often seen as being essential for subsequent success
But surely it’s best not to make the well known mistakes that others have made before?
So why is innovation (scientific and business) usually seen as being such a good thing?
Many governments (and donors) are increasingly focusing on funding innovation to drive economic growth – should they use taxpayers’ money to fund failure?
Might it not be wiser for donors and governments to spread what we know works, say for 60% of the population, to everyone?
Reducing inequalities rather than maximising growth
The problem with “self”
The need to be first
Overconfidence in own excellence
Having great qualifications so must know the truth
But perhaps the qualifications are not so great after all!
Unwilling to be self-critical
Brought up within the power and culture of non-self-critical scientism
A self-congratulatory culture (illustrated by awards processes)
Competitive rather than communal culture
Enjoys making mistakes in the belief that they will learn
Very expensive for others, especially in the international development context
Short-term job delivery and then move on
It’s always good to be seen to be bringing in new ideas
You don’t have to pick up the bits because you’ve left by then
The world of 140 characters
Project cycles often very short
It’s important to show success even when you’ve done nothing
Those who shout loudest tend to get heard
Even when there is little substance behind the claims
Short term is much easier than doing something long term
Perhaps “Agile” also has something to do with this?
The commercialisation and marketisation of education
EdTech is about the technology not the education
Everything is about expanding the market
Sales driven, with short term targets
Pitching to donors
A different skill set to delivery
Donors have large budgets and also have to show quick gains
Unrealistic target setting
Pilots where it is easiest
Instead they should be done where it is most difficult
We are measuring different success factors
Connecting a million children
But are they the most marginalised, and do they learn anything?
Insufficient intergenerational dialogue
“Youth have all the answers”
Older people have wrecked the world and so should now listen to young people who have all the good ideas
Much political posturing
The old have no idea how to use digital tech
Little priority given to mentoring
Even fewer initiatives specifically designed to be inter-generational
Youth political institutions often replicate existing flawed global institutions
Especially within the UN system
Moving beyond a sketch
I have frequently been frustrated when I hear exciting new ideas being advocated about ways through which the latest generation of technologies (be it AI, AR, blockchain, or the Metaverse) can transform global education for the better. More often than not, the technology is the easy bit. It’s everything else that’s difficult. As a contribution at least to what governments need to get right, we collectively crafted a report on Education for the most marginalised post-COVID-19: Guidance for governmetns on the use of digital technologies in education (freely available under a CC BY licence at https://ict4d.org.uk/technology-and-education-post-covid-19, and https://edtechhub.org/education-for-the-most-marginalised-post-covid-19) which I hope goes some way to sharing global good practices at least in this area. Perhaps we should do similar reports for the private sector and for civil society, although those in these sectors could still learn much from our report for governments.
The above six sets of suggestions are just a beginning, but I wanted to share them here to provoke discussion. Everyone will have their own list of suggestions. What’s missing from the above? I’d be interested to hear from anyone who might like to explore this theme further! I need to learn more! At the very least, I hope that future colleagues will address these suggestions head on and thereby no longer repeat the same mistakes that so many of us have made in the past.
I am so delighted to have been asked by the ITU and Child Helpline International to moderate their important session on “Partnering to protect children and youth” at the ITU’s Telecom World gathering in Bangkok on 15th November. The abuse of children online is without question one of the darkest aspects of the use of ICTs, and it is great to see the work that so many child helplines are doing globally to counter and respond to this.
The main objective of the session is to highlight the work done by a range of ICT stakeholders to initiate and support child helplines in various parts of the world. The session will begin with introductory remarks from Houlin Zhao (the Secretary General of the ITU) and Professor Jaap Doek (Chair of the Board of Child Helpline international). This will be followed by a short video entitled No child should be left behind, and then Jenny Jones (Director Public Policy, GMSA) will launch new child online protection guidelines for child helplines. Following this, Doreen Bogdan-Martin (Chief of Strategic Planning and Membership, ITU) will provide a short overview of the joint campaign being run by the ITU and Child Helpline International to protect children and youth. She will also outline the process whereby case studies submitted to an online consultation organised by the ITU were selected by a specialist Jury.
I will then moderate what I hope will be a lively and useful panel discussion that brings together the following people and initiatives that were selected through the above process:
Anthony Fitzgerald, Kids Helpline Manager, representing Optus from Australia;
Ola-jo Tandre, Director and Head of Social Responsibility, Telenor Group;
Mofya Chisala, Strategic Analyst, Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority; and
Enkhbat Tserendoo from the Communications Regulatory Commission of Mongolia, Mobicom
As moderator, I hope to be drawing out general conclusions about what works, as well as the pitfalls to avoid, from the experiences of these examples of good practice from many different parts of the world. I very much hope that this will help those in other countries who are thinking about setting up child helplines, and that these experiences will also help those already running such helplines to improve the services that they offer children and young people.
Working together in partnership, we must do much more to counter the abuse of children online, and child helplines are an important element of the overall package of initiatives that must be implemented to achieve this.
Noted below is the call from the Arab Gulf Programme for Development for the AGFUND Prize 2011 focusing on Empowering Youth through Entrepreneurship and Job Opportunities. This is a very worthwhile initiative, and I would encourage people working in this area to apply.
“FOR UN AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS, NGOS, GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES AND INDIVIDUALS
AGFUND ANNOUNCES THE OPENING OF NOMINATIONS FOR ITS PRIZE ON YOUTH EMPOWERMENT PROJECTS May 31st is the deadline
The Arab Gulf Programme for Development (AGFUND) has opened the door for nominations for the AGFUND International Prize for Pioneering Human Development Projects. It invites the United Nations, international, and regional organizations as well as NGOs, ministries, public institutions, universities, and research centres worldwide to submit their nominations for the Prize amounting to $500 000 in its four Categories. The theme of the prize for the year 2011 is ‘Empowering Youth through Entrepreneurship and Job Opportunities.’ subdivided to match the four categories of the Prize are as follows:
First Category:The role of international organizations in supporting the developing countries’ national policies and programs for empowering youth through entrepreneurships and job opportunities. (For projects implemented by UN, international or regional organizations)
Second Category: NGOs-led efforts to empowering youth through entrepreneurships and job opportunities. (For projects implemented by national NGOs).
Third Category: The governmental bodies’ efforts in adoption of pioneering entrepreneurships for empowering youth and increasing their job opportunities. (For projects by government ministries and public institutions).
Fourth Category: Individual-led efforts to empowering youth through entrepreneurships and job opportunities. (For projects initiated, sponsored and/or implemented by individuals).
The Communications Department is receiving nominations at the address of the Arab Gulf Programme for Development: Riyadh 11415, P.O. Box 18371, KSA; or the email address firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com> . For more information and for downloading the nomination form, please visit the AGFUND website http://www.agfund.org <http://www.agfund.org/> . Nomination forms will be accepted until May 31st, 2011.
The projects submitted for the Prize are evaluated with high objectivity and transparency by juries chosen every year with regard to the experience and specialization relevant to the Prize theme. The number of projects which have won the Prize since its inception in 1999 amounts to 38 projects, implemented by UN and international organizations as well as NGOs and individuals. More than one hundred developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe have benefited from the prize.
The Prize Committee is composed a number of distinguished world personalities representing the world’s geographical regions. The Committee convenes annually to discuss the evaluation results of the nominated projects and to choose the winning projects. Prizes are presented in a ceremony to which representatives of the winning organizations, specialists and experts in the field of development, celebrities interested in development issues, and media representatives are invited.”