ICT and Educational Gap

Educational gap
The educational gap in Nepal between urban and rural schools, public and private schools, and private and private schools is deteriorating. For example, there are hundreds of private and public schools in urban areas. However, if we travel across the rural areas where transportation facilities are available, we can find a few private schools and a few public schools. Likewise, if we climb across higher altitude or mountainous region, the number of private schools disappears, and we can find around one or two, so called, public schools that is mostly run by communities, scattered between different distant villages. It shows a strange negative correlation between altitude and number of schools in Nepal. Now, if we think about the educational gap between public and private schools then we can find differences in syllabus, differences in the language of instructions, differences in the skill of teaching staffs, differences in the infrastructure, and differences in the fee structure. Once again, there is an educational gap within private schools. Some private schools look like multinational corporate houses, others look like particular schools, and rest are difficult to consider as a school. This gap extended to delivery of quality education as well.

Educational gap and its consequences
The gap is creating two classes of people: one who can afford private schools, and one who cannot afford it. Those who can afford private education concern more about tuition fee and quality of education, on the other hand, those who cannot afford concern sending their children to public schools or employ them in household work. However, it does not mean that they don’t want a better education for their children. To provide better education people are migrating to urban areas. Ironically, it is the general opinion in Nepal that private schools are better than public schools. Furthermore, statistics shows that less than 20% of the public schools students are able to pass the school leaving certificate (SLC) exam because of the poor quality of the education. In fact, this kind of educational disparities will continually enhance the socioeconomic gap between rural and urban, and between haves and have-nots. We believe that today’s children are tomorrow’s citizen, and education is the key driver to create better citizens. The prevailing educational gap indicates that it will create a defunct society in the future, if not taken care of soon.

How, ICT can help to bridge the educational gap?
If we ask government, they can show us hundreds of rhetoric policies, such as free education to poor, budget allocation to remote areas, monitoring of private schools, and bridging gaps between private and public schools, etc.,. However, they are not able to implement these policies even inside the Kathmandu valley. In this situation, what should we do to bridge the educational gap in community level? And, what role information and communication technology (ICT) can play? To understand this phenomena, we conducted a case study of three schools, namely, Himanchal Secondary School, Tikot Middle School, and Sri Devi school in Myagdi and Hetauda district respectively. These were public schools run by the local communities and located in the remote areas. Mahabir Pun, team leader of Nepal Wireless Network project, installed computers in these schools and provided internet connections through Wi-Fi technology. Now the students and teachers of these remote areas can connect and access to the resources and information not located in their sites. Likewise, the computers in these schools have been loaded with interactive digital educational content prepare by OLE Nepal. These educational contents are based on the curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education.
During our interview with teachers and students of these schools, we found some interesting facts. Teachers of these schools think that it is easy to teach using computers because all the study materials are installed in the computer, and there are interactive graphics based lessons that are easy to read. To teach the concept they don’t need to put much effort, however they have to be well prepared before taking classes. There are detailed notes for the teacher that explain which learning objective the activity is designed to meet, which chapter in the book the activity correlates to, how the activity can be integrated in classroom teaching, and how to use the activity. 
Children were very enthusiastic to use laptop and try to explore materials by themselves. The explorative habit of children was cultivating and they were more active than before. There were game based exercises, and they were trying to achieve more scores in the game. Which can help them to be more competitive, at the same time, it can enhances the possibilities of self-evaluation and self-learning. According to the Rabi Karmacharya, executive director of OLE Nepal, ICT has changed the teaching and learning process, it is more student centric rather than teacher centric. It also makes the teaching and learning process faster, and accessible. He also told us that ICT is a different medium of educational delivery, but the core principle of teaching and learning is the same.The use of ICT based technology has helped these public schools to increase the attendance rate of students. It also helped to improve the availability of textbooks on time, with the use of internet the text book contents can be downloaded anywhere and anytime.
Challenges and Suggestions to implement ICT based educational model
There are social, economical, political, geographical, physical, and human challenges to implement ICT based educational model. Karmacharya stated," putting computer at schools and connecting internet will not bridge the gap, but we need to produce the useful contents that can be understood by the students living in the rural areas." Two main challenges they described were resistance by teachers and expansion of the ICT based educational program. Karmacharya quoted," Our first and foremost target should be to convince the government organizations because we are not doing this forever. Our role here is more of catalyst, we [OLE Nepal] are sitting here and bringing all the stakeholders together to discuss the possible solutions, for example, to find different ways of doing it, and to find how best to do it, and how best to take this [ICT based education] to the mass." He said that involvement of local community is also important. Therefore, the solutions they are employing besides building technical infrastructure are teachers training, capacity building of the government employees, and approaching community leaders.

Finally, I would like to put the quote of social activist and educationist, Dr. Mahabir Pun, at this juncture.
”… this is a pilot study to learn about future possibilities, what’s wrong, what’s good, we need to learn. Right now, we are not doing any big things or it is not a magic. What we are trying to do simply is to tell that this [ICT based education] is very important and necessary for the future. In future, those who will not know ICT will be like a blind man. Therefore, we are trying to open their eyes right now. If they learn about computers in the beginning stage of their primary level classes, then their ability to search information in the computers will improve. They will develop the habits to search and learn using computers. Therefore, we are preparing them for the future. So we cannot say the result of this project will be seen after one or two years. The impact can be seen after 10 or 20 years, when these students will go to college level. In that stage, the lesson they learned now will be very useful to them, therefore, in the long run this technology will help to reduce the educational gap in Nepal.”


Unfolding ICT4D: Part-III (Concluding Notes)

Theories can be described in three ways: as an initial guide to design and data collection, as a part of an iterative process of data collection and analysis, and as a final product of the research. There are several theories that can be used as an analytical lens, such as structuration theory, punctuated equation theory, communities of practice, livelihood approach- sustainable framework of analysis, information chain, diffusion of innovation, new intuitionalists theory, TAM/TAM2, knowledge management, capability approach, complexity Science, and actor-network theory (ANT) to name a few. Each theory explores or explains some general or particular phenomenon. The subsequent section illustrates some examples of deployment of theories in ICT4D research. 

In the reference work of (Walsham and Sahay, 1999), they applied ANT for the analytical purpose of GIS implementation in district level administration of India. The objective of this study was to identify the degree of penetration of IT use in an Indian district, in addition, the reason of success or failure of the GIS projects. In their study, they found that there is a lack of aligned interest among different actors, such as actors who develop GIS technology in western countries, and one who uses that technology in India. They reported that GIS developers inscribe their interest in the technology according to their point of view, because of that the cross-cultural and socio-technical conflict arises during the implementation time. As a result, the lack of aligned interest among actors leads to the inefficient implementation of GIS technology for district level administration in India.
In their study, they selected the actors from three groups such as US based actors, central government officials in India, and the Indian Scientific institutions involved in GIS development. First they identified their interests and addressed the processes of enrolment that took place to enable their participation in the network of aligned interests. They evaluated the networks under four different categories such as network for project initiation, network during project development, extending the network to district-level administrations and role of researcher in the actor-network. In the initiation phase the network of aligned interest was quite good, however, in the second state of development, conflicting interest of district level officials and scientists made it difficult to translate the aligned interest of actors. Scientists were more aligned to the data generated through remote sensing, whereas, district officials’ interest was more aligned to the population or livestock. They found that at the time of extending the network to district-level administrators enrolling district level officers was difficult. The reason of not enrolling by district level officials in the network was socio-cultural rather than technical. 
In the reference work of (Heeks and Stanforth, 2007), they used the actor-network theory to investigate an explicit understanding of the political interactions of stakeholders involved with an initiative to implement eGovernment. The objective of this research was to identify the factors of eGovernment projects failure and success. This case study was about an e-Government project called the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) in Sri Lanka. In their work they trace the trajectory of e-Government projects through the lens of actor-network theory based around (Law and Callon’s) conception of local and global networks. They analyzed how the failure to mobilize a local network, the failure of the initial strategy to establish itself as an obligatory passage point between the networks, and the failure of local networks led the global network to disintegrate. Finally, they suggested that the success of eGovernment project depends on the homogeneity and mobilization of both local and global networks, and of the acceptance of the e-Government design as an obligatory passage point holding the networks together. Furthermore, they showed how power in networks can be used to understand the process of network mobilization, focused on the idea of power to rather than power over.
Similarly, Rahul De (2009) examined in a case study in Karnatka, India, how Structuration theory can be deployed to understand the influence of caste system on design of the eGovernment system. Duncombe (2006) used livelihood framework in an empirical case study in Botswana to provide information-centered understanding of ICTs and systematic analysis of poverty.

Sein and Harindranath (2004) advocates that conceptualization of ICT artifacts is important to understand the role of ICT in developments. A deeper understanding and explanations are required to clarify how and why social changes occur due to particular ICT artifacts. They conceptualized the ICT based upon its use, views, and impact. For example, 'USE' based conceptualization categorized the ICT artifact as a commodity (manufacturing computers), as a supporting tool for general development activities (collect, organize, and process information in development projects), as a driver of the economy (infrastructure building, education, healthcare, etc.), and ICT directed at specific development sector or project (GIS, telemedicine).  

Likewise, based on 'VIEWS' ICT artifacts are conceptualized as nominal view (ICT not specified explicitly), tool view (means to achieve something), computational view (technology, algorithm, model, codes), proxy view (ICT as economic capital, ICT as a knowledge enabler), ensemble view (socially embedded system). Authors further argued that ICT impacts also can be conceptualized into three different levels such as first-order or primary effect, second-order or secondary effect, and third-order or tertiary effect.  The primary effect is the substitution of old technology by the new (internet, mobile phones, etc.). The secondary effect is the increase in phenomena enabled by new technology (increase in communication), and the tertiary effect  is the generation of new technology related business and societal change. Authors finally inferred that to achieve tertiary level developmental impact, ICT artifacts in development policies should move up from simple tool and computational views to ensemble and proxy views.

ICT4D research can use qualitative, quantitative, or mixed research methods. Quantitative methods are helpful to identify causal relationships, and qualitative methods can be used to build theories explaining complicated phenomena. For detail readings on research methods visit: http://www.qual.auckland.ac.nz/

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Duncombe, R. (2006). Using the livelihoods framework to analyze ICT applications for poverty reduction through microenterprise. Information Technologies and International Development, 3(3), 81-100.
Heeks, R., & Stanforth, C. (2007). Understanding e-Government project trajectories from an actor-network perspective. European Journal of Information Systems, 16, 165-177.
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Orlikowski, W. J. (1993). CASE Tools as Organizational Change: Investigating Incremental and Radical Changes in Systems Development. MIS Quarterly, 17(3), 309-340.
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Sein, M. K., & Harindranath, G. (2004). Conceptualizing the ICT artifact : Toward understanding the role of ICT in national development. Information Society, 20(1), 15-24.
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ICT4D in Nepal

On 30 March, 2010 the workshop on ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) was organized by the collectives of researchers, ICT entrepreneurs, social activists, IT experts, healthcare champions, and government officials from Nepal and University of Agder (UiA), Norway. The objective of this workshop was to exchange our knowledge and experience from ICT4D projects and research in general, and to understand the interaction processes between ICT and Social Capital and its consequences in remote communities in particular. Therefore, the discussions in the workshop was oriented towards how the interaction between ICT and Social Capital enable (or disable) people to access resources and collaborate to achieve shared goals, for instance, accessibility to healthcare, education, market, likewise, other social, cultural, economical, and governmental services. In addition, secondary objective was to identify future possibilities of collaborative research between UiA, Norway and Nepal in ICT4D and eGovernment areas.
Workshop started with a presentation by associate professor Øystein Sæbø from University of Agder, Norway. He presented his experience in ICT4D and eGovernment projects particularly in the context of Nepal. In the presentation, he expressed that stakeholders from different sectors are positively motivated towards the deployment of ICT for socioeconomic development. He stated further that expansion of ICT services by Nepal Wireless Networking Project (NWNP) in the mountain regions is remarkable. Likewise, he indicated some challenges, such as over dependency on single actor and a lack of collective action which may leads to redundant work and fragmented ICT4D approaches. He suggested that working collectively in a mutual platform will be more efficient and effective for the success of ICT4D projects.
After the opening presentation was the key note speech by Dr. Mahabir Pun, Magsaysay award winner and the team leader of NWNP. He shared his experiences of the wireless project. His story started from the inception of wireless project idea, the use of social networking and media, and the collective action inside and outside the mountain communities. He said that the project succeeds to connect more than 70 remote villages through internet connection since then. The project started with the objective to provide better education and healthcare services to the remote communities using ICT. For this purpose, he stated, the wireless project is working together with OLE Nepal, and Kathmandu Model Hospital. He added OLE Nepal develops local contents based on the curriculum approved by the ministry of education. They are in the process of developing computer based interactive contents. Likewise, he further explained, the hospital is supporting with telemedicine services. The initiator of telemedicine project Dr. Saroj Dhital together with Dr. Pun emphasized that telemedicine is a way to empower the local people, but not to replace them. Dr. Dhital added, “In this project we educate the local health workers (particularly women) in our Kathmandu based hospital, and send them back to their villages. And, we provide them regular consultancy through video conferencing.” Dr. Pun stated that appointing medical expertise in rural areas is very difficult. Therefore, telemedicine can work as a magic stick to virtually bring that expertise in the remote places.
He said that the implementation of ICT services in Nangi village is just an example that can be replicated to other rural areas. In his presentation, he stated that most of the ICT4D projects fail because they lack understanding of local context; and, do not develop local contents. He added, lack of income generation activities, likewise, is also a main challenge in the ICT4D projects. For this purpose, Pun explained, NWNP is working with www.thamel.com and Borderlands projects to promote ecommerce and ecotourism activities.  
The next presenter, Mr. Bal Krishna Joshi, executive director, thamel.com, focused his talk on the opportunities and possibilities ICT could bring to promote local culture, agro-products, and indigenous knowledge. He emphasized that ICT can be a good platform to promote local products in domestic and international markets. He further added that these kinds of income generating projects can make the ICT4D projects scalable and sustainable. He said that just complaining about government activities and hanging around the political discussions cannot be fruitful in the long run. We need to plot the future development base in the community and national levels for the betterment of the nation as well as its people.
After Mr. Joshi, the next presenter, Mr. Biplav Man Singh, highlighted on the deteriorating situation of education system and dropout rates in the schools. He argued that ICT can be a medium to make education available to everyone and everywhere. He suggested that establishing virtual universities in the country could provide opportunities to the people staying in the remote villages. Following Mr. Singh, executive director of OleNepal, Mr. Ravi Karmacharya, also emphasized that there is a need to restructure the traditional teaching method. His ideas were aligned with Mr. Singh, both agreed that use of ICT in education can make it more interactive. Children can explore more resources and they can learn by doing themselves.
Additionally, Dr. Subarna Shakya presented the facts and figures of eGovernement projects in Nepal. He said that government and other organizations are working on implementing the projects. He added that they built a huge data center in cooperation with Korean government. He said that their project on developing digital ID is running in a good shape, and there will be more activities on digitization of government services. Likewise, Dr. Anil Kumar Jha, following Dr. Shakya, told us about his telemedicine projects. He claimed that doctors in the town are ready to do volunteer job in the remote areas. And, telemedicine could provide a platform to the doctors, so that they can serve the poor communities. In the final presentation of the workshop, Mr. Jwalanta Shrestha of OTRC (Open Technologies Resource Center) focused on the technical aspects of ICT4D projects. He explained about the open software platform and its usage in the context of developing countries like Nepal. In addition, he illustrated some projects that were using energy efficient hardware devices in the remote places.
The next session of the workshop was an interactive group discussion. In which, Ms. Mona, Rural IT manager of Winrock International, said that we should not forget the energy issues while talking about ICT4D projects. It is a critical issue, especially in the context of Nepal. She suggested that there is a need to run mini and micro level hydro projects. She added, at the same time we need to think seriously about the alternative source of energy. Other participants from Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP), Nepal Library Foundation (NLF), and Kathmandu University also engaged actively in the interactive session. They informed that localization of technology with the help of UNICODE has made it possible to promote Nepali language. The localization process also facilitates to translate literatures from foreign languages to Nepali language. Participants from MPP, told us that they are working on developing software for physically challenged people such as Nepali text reader for blind people.
The workshop concluded with a motion that Nepal is going through a difficult period of political instability and socioeconomic problems. If every citizen of Nepal indulges himself/herself into discussing problems rather than finding solutions, we will never forward towards the development stage. Optimistically, the peace  in the country will prevail in the future; the state of political instability and anarchy won't last long. But, the million dollar question is, do we have enough future plans to position Nepal into the global map. If we want an absolute development in our country, then we have to both think and act individually and collectively as a nation, about the current challenges and future possibilities. And, the emerging technology, to great extent, can provide a platform to foster 'collective action' and 'collective capabilities' vis-à-vis foster human and national development.