About Danièle Adler

Daniele Adler is a consultant in communications strategy in Cambodia

Zaya Learning Labs: Putting ICTs in the Classroom

zaya

Neil D’Souza is an Indian engineer and a dreamer. His dream is to help the underprivileged children to receive a quality education.

A Life Commitment to Education

D’Souza’s passion to help the disadvantaged started during his time at Cisco. For four years, he worked there, mostly on mobile Internet and video technologies. During his free time, he would do some volunteering in San Jose, California.

In 2011, he took the leap. He moved to Mongolia and spent a year teaching in rural orphanages. This is where he discovered the learning deficiency that affects most developing countries. His pupils were far below their grade level, lacking basic literary and numerical skills.

D’Souza was aware of the ongoing online education revolution. He knew this could help his students to catch up. But without Internet, they had no chance to ever access the educational resources online. The more time he spent in Mongolia, the more determined he became to tackle this issue.

He was even starting to develop his own solution when he met Soma Vajpayee. Vajpayee was the perfect partner for his project. She had been a Training Manager at Citibank for ten years and, just like D’Souza, she was passionate about using ICTs in the classroom. In 2012, they started Zaya Learning Labs. Their goal was to bring quality education to the bottom of the pyramid, starting in India.

The Indian Crisis Education

For years, India has been confronting an acute learning crisis. Although 96 percent of the children go to school, many do not reach basic literacy by 10. In fact, 60 percent cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.

One of the main reasons for the crisis is the lack of trained and motivated teachers. There is an estimated shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters throughout India. Those who actually teach often lack both expertise and pedagogical ability. Since many in low-income private schools get only $100 a month, they also have no motivation. A majority of teachers even skip school at least once a week.

All this adds to the curriculum’s low standards and large classroom sizes. So it is no surprising that the learning outcomes are so poor.

Mixing education and technology

To tackle this issue, D’Souza and Vajpayee created an innovative solution mixing education and a ClassCloud technology.

On the education side, they developed a blended learning model in order to create a student-driven learning environment. The goal is that pupils stop staring out the window and instead engage with the teacher. This is why they divide the students into several groups based on their level. During the day, each group goes through three different learning times. While the schoolmaster teaches the first group, the second one reads or does homework.

Meanwhile, the last group reviews their lessons using a computer or a tablet. It allows them to connect to the ClassCloud. This portable WiFi device contains all the resources for the class. There are lessons, but also instructional videos, educational games, and quizzes.

To truly engage the students, Zaya developed a fun and friendly learning environment. The ClassCloud is also adaptive, so the pupils can learn at their own level and pace. Lessons and assessments are based on each student’s interests and needs, while also taking into account their progress. When they are consistent in finding the right answers, they can move to the next level. But if they aren’t, they spend more time on the topic. The overall goal is to guide them step by step towards their actual grade level.

Once the students complete their assignments, the system generates a personalized analytics report. It is then sent to the teachers as well as the Zaya educational team. It helps them make the right interventions. For instance, it is easier to identify the students who lag behind and have the teachers focus on them.

An Innovative Solution That Makes Students Happy to Study

Zaya’s ClassCloud is a great Edtech solution, as it is particularly adapted to the constraints of developing countries.

  • It is easy to use, even by teachers who have no IT skills
  • It is battery-powered and can run for ten hours without electricity. This is particularly useful in India, where power shortages are frequent.
  • Finally, it works both online and offline. This is another necessary feature in India, as Internet penetration is around 12 percent. While offline, the ClassCloud stores all the data. It syncs it back to the cloud whenever it has connectivity.

No wonder Zaya has become so popular among low-income schools throughout India. Over 100 schools have adopted it, and 30,000 pupils use it on a daily basis. For them, it has changed everything. They are now engaged in their learning and excited to go to class. More importantly, their learning outcomes increase.

Combating Electronic Violence Against Women in the Philippines

harassment

For the past two decades, the rise of ICTs has generated new forms of violence. Such violence happens online or via mobile phones, and women are the first victims. According to UN Women, nearly 75 percent of female Internet users worldwide have been exposed to online threats and harassment.

The Philippines are no exception. Electronic violence against women or eVAW is on the rise, and more and more suffer from it. In Manila, 70% of the complaints about online or mobile abuse come from women.

Definition of eVAW

eVAW refers to any violence against women perpetrated using ICTs. Such violence often causes a lasting mental, emotional or psychological distress.

There are several forms of eVAW:

Electronic Harassment: This is the most common form of eVAW in the Philippines. Most of the time the harassment comes from a former partner who wants to take revenge. It can also come from strangers willing to exert control over their female victim. They send threats or communications with sexual undertones. Or they publish false accusations through blogs, online forums, or via mobile phones.

Cyber Stalking: ICTs have made stalking much easier and more prevalent than before. In the Philippines, this is the second most widespread form of eVAW. Tracking someone’s phone has become quite easy (even without their permission). On a smart phone, it requires an installation of a tracking app, which can be done in five minutes. Even if the person owns a regular cell phone, it is still possible to install a tracker. This puts some women in a precarious situation.

Unauthorized Distribution of Videos and Images: Sex videos and images have been proliferating online. With a smart phone, it is very easy for a man to record intimacy unbeknown to his partner. It is even easier to post these records online to harass, humiliate or bribe a woman. This does not happen to celebrities only.

Cyber Pornography and Prostitution: The Philippines are sometimes considered as a “cyber sex hub.” About 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. It is no surprise that prostitution is flourishing. In 2013, there were about 500,000 prostitutes, mostly women. Some are now forced to engage in cyber sex or pornography in exchange for money. The situation is aggravated by the craze for pornography among Filipinos. The country places 15th in adult website Pornhub’s global traffic on mobile devices. And it ranks 26th when it comes to watching it using a computer.

Laws Aren’t Everything

The Foundation for Media Alternatives is a key player in the battle against eVAW.

Founded in 1987, FMA is a well-established Filipino nongovernment organization. Its goal is to empower the Philippines’ civil society through the media. In the 2000’s, it contributed to opening the access to the Internet. In particular, it developed a free email service for NGOs.

In 2009 FMA decided to commit against the rising eVAW issue in the Philippines by becoming involved in the global initiative “Take Back the Tech! To End Violence Against Women.” At the time, there was a pressing need for more adapted laws. The Philippines were already considering violence against women as a crime, but electronic violence was not targeted as such.

Furthermore, more awareness was required. The victims often had no idea how to deal with these offenses. “Laws […] do not always prove to be effective deterrents in the commission of crimes, explained Lisa Garcia from FMA. The anonymity that the Internet provides emboldens malicious citizens to commit damaging acts without fear of discovery in spite of laws. This means more advocacy and education are needed to address issues of violence and rights abuses through technology.”

Taking Action Against eVAW

That is why FAM’s first priority was to raise awareness about eVAW. It targeted the general public by featuring programs on the radio and television. It also reached representatives of public, academic and civil organizations. In total, FMA has trained more than 1,000 people.

In 2013, FAM took its struggle against eVAW one step further. It reinforced its advocacy action by launching the eVAW Mapping Project. This Ushahidi-based tool aims to collect accurate eVAW data. Women report incidents by SMS or emails, and the software aggregates them into a map. FMA then conducts a trend analysis and data visualization. It eventually shares this data with the authorities and policy makers.

Safer Electronic Spaces for Women

Since 2009, FMA has managed to take the struggle against eVAW in the Philippines one step further. Today, eVAW is recognized as a form of cybercrime and more women are aware of their rights and able to report this violence.

An Online Platform Promotes Fair Tourism in Rural Thailand

look-alike

Pai Somsak Boonkam was born in the rural village of Roiet, Northeastern Thailand. His parents were poor rice farmers who believed in education. When he was eight, they sent him to an uncle, so he could go to high school. He studied his way through the university and became an engineer.

Lack of Economic Opportunities in Rural Thailand

At 18 years old, he came back to his hometown, but found that all his friends had left the village too. Like in most rural areas of Thailand, there were no job opportunities in Roiet. Many of Boonkam’s friends had moved to the cities hoping for a better life.

Once there, they were faced with many difficulties. It was hard for them to adapt to urban life, and they would only get the low-paying jobs. Meanwhile, with no one to enliven it, the community’s culture was dying.

Boonkam wondered what he could do, but he had no idea. He went on with his own life, took a sabbatical and traveled to India, Laos and Myanmar. He then moved to the US, to pursue an MBA in sustainability. Finally, he came back to Thailand and was hired by the Mae Fah Luang Foundation. His job was to manage a rural homestay project in the Northern part of the country.

This is when he got the idea to use tourism as a development tool.

Tourism in Thailand

Since the 1960s, tourism has been the engine of the Thai economy. It now accounts for 20 percent of the country’s GDP. For years most tourists have been to Bangkok, the Southern beaches and the Islands. But more and more are now striving for an immersive experience of the local life. That’s why many travel agencies offer what they call “sustainability tours.”

For Boonkam, these are just marketing tools and have zero benefit for the locals. Villages on the tourist route have become like “zoos.” One day, while he was working in a village, a bus of tourists arrived. All they did was chase the villagers, to take their pictures, and none bothered to talk to them. Twenty minutes later, they were gone to the next spot…

For the villagers, this was a great annoyance, for which they hardly received anything. Hotel chains and tour operators get 70 percent of the income generated by tourism. Less than 10 percent goes to the communities and hill tribes who still live in poverty. No wonder some are tempted to sell their traditional treasures to the tourists.

Sustainability

Boonkam believes there is another way to travel. He also believes that tourism can sustain the development of the communities. That’s why in 2012, he quit his job to start Local Alike. He was 31 at the time, and his ambition was to make the Thai tourism industry more just. And to do so, he would work with the communities to create authentic tourist activities.

Each tour promoted by Local Alike is designed by the villagers themselves. They decide everything – from the concept to the pricing. Even the guides are local people. Boonkam and his team give some support, making sure that the tourists’ expectations are met.

What’s more, Local Alike connects the local communities with their clients. They promote each project on their website, where the tourists can do their bookings.

A Source of Hope for the Future

In three years, Local Alike has developed tourism projects in 15 communities across Thailand. And everyone is already reaping the benefits!

Travelers can now delve into the local communities’ real life. So far, 1,300 tourists have participated in a tour or an activity. For the communities, it means 20 percent of extra income every year. And more than 2,000 jobs have been created.

Moreover, a dedicated development fund is formed for every participating village. Local Alike gives five percent of its profits and the community gives five percent of its income. The money is then used to finance local projects.

And it’s paid off, like in Suan Pa, north of Thailand. This hill tribe village was the first one to work with Local Alike. It is a hidden gem, yet it had a bad reputation among tourists. The locals would not pay any attention to the waste. Boonkam spent time explaining to them how important cleanliness was for the tourists. Right after, the villagers gathered to clean the whole place and its beautiful surroundings.

Soon, trekkers came back, bringing hope of a brighter future.

Can ICTs Improve the Indian Rural Health System?

india-nurse

Despite real progress since 1990, India has not achieved universal health coverage yet.

For instance, the country still has the highest infant death rate in the world. In 2013, 1.3 million children under the age of five died. For many, this was due to preventable causes like birth complications, pneumonia or diarrhea. Tragically, the majority of fatalities occurred in poor rural households.

A shortage of skilled medical staff in rural India

In India, most of the medical facilities are in the cities, where only 27 percent of the population lives. Approximately 716 million people are currently living in rural areas and they only have access to deplorable health centers. Most of the time, they have to travel a long way to get there. When they arrive, nothing assures them that they will find a practitioner to treat them. Rural India is indeed facing a 64 percent shortage of health professionals.

Aware of the situation, successive Indian governments have been working on this issue. In particular, they have hired women as health workers in remote villages. Today, they are the backbone of the public health system in the countryside. However, most of them are semi-literate and have an insufficient basic training.

A lofty young couple to tackle the Indian rural healthcare issue

They took the leap in 2013 and their dream seemed impossible to achieve. After all, Abhinav and Shrutika Girdhar had no healthcare experience. All they had were years of frustration with the rural medical system.

Shrukita grew up in Mumbai, but her grandparents live in a village of 2,000 people. Whenever they get sick, they have no choice but consult the local health workers. They are only two and they have poor medical skills. Often they cannot cure treatable problems, and often times, this leads to the patient’s death.

Such a situation worried Shrukita, so she opened up to her husband. As the son of two doctors and an entrepreneur at heart, Abhinav was willing to take action. Together they agreed they would focus on improving the training of health workers.

That’s how they left their well-paid jobs and started Bodhi Health Education.

An accessible, personalized training program for health workers

bodhi

In India, road conditions are usually poor, so it was unrealistic to organize the training sessions in the villages. On the other hand, mobile coverage is good and there are over 900 million cell phone users. Plus, Shrukita being an IT engineer, they opted for an e-learning solution that could easily be delivered through Android-based devices.

That way, they would tackle the challenge of training uneducated people. Most health workers have limited formal education and it is hard for them to learn medical topics. That’s why the Girdhars and their team of medical specialists developed an adapted curriculum. They made sure to explain every concept and procedures using pictures and videos. Additionally, they deliver the lessons in Hindi and India’s regional languages. That way, the learning is simple, interactive, and engaging.

Furthermore, the Bodhi curriculum relies on a personalized educational approach. After a lesson, the learner has to answer practical questions; after a module, she must then take a quiz exam. The results are sent to the trainers who can assess the learning process. It allows them to tailor the program to the health worker’s pace and progress.

Reluctant medical authorities

At first, Shrutika and Abhinav had to overcome resistance to e-learning. The medical authorities were doubtful about using technology to train community health workers. Despite this rebuff, the young entrepreneurs persisted. In less than two years, they developed 100 training modules. The Bodhi curriculum now covers topics like maternal and child care, immunization as well as tuberculosis.

Besides, the Girdhars introduced their program to health workers, who all showed great interest. They found it easy to use and were happy for the opportunity to increase their skills and knowledge. They knew it could help them better treat people, but also earn more money.

In view of these results, the Indian medical authorities agreed to give it a try. Bodhi Health Education could develop partnerships with the government, private hospitals and healthcare companies. These organizations provided tablets, computers and smartphones to upload the Bodhi curriculum. Over 1,000 community health workers could at last access the training.

Towards a better healthcare for the ‘bottom of the pyramid’?

For Shrutika and Abhinav, this is only the beginning. In the next five years, they aim to train more than 60,000 rural health workers. They also want to go international and promote their solution in Asia and Africa.

And of course, they will focus on the regions with the worst health indicators to achieve a major impact!

Can ICTs Help to Eradicate Tuberculosis in India?

tb

A mother of three, aged 30, living in rural India, she was infected with tuberculosis (TB) in 2012. Her name is Anita.

In the 1950s the world considered that tuberculosis was eradicated. Unfortunately, a half-century later, the epidemic has reappeared. Every year, nine million people fall sick with TB worldwide and 1.5 million die from it. In 2003, the United Nations had to declare the disease a global emergency, again.

No 1 public health issue in India

With three million patients, India accounts for 31 percent of the global TB burden.

In India, tuberculosis is not only deadly; it also means deep misery for the patients. Too often they face discrimination from their family, friends, employers, neighbors, school authorities, etc. When doctors diagnosed Anita with TB, her husband left her. Sick and illiterate, she had to support herself and her children. Of course, it was even more difficult for her to adhere to her treatment schedule.

That was a shame because tuberculosis is actually curable. But it requires a tedious and long term regimen. In order to cure, every patient has to take up to 75 medication doses over six months or more. They also have to go regularly to a health center so they can take their treatment under observation. After two months of treatment, the symptoms of tuberculosis usually wane off. However, the patients are not fully cured yet.

Too often, though, people get tired with the drugs’ side effects and the commute to the health centers. And since medical records are not digitized, doctors lose track. They don’t follow up as they should. As a result, 60 percent of the patients fail following their regimen. What’s worse, they stop their treatment. This is what happened to Anita.

A man-made phenomenon

After a few months, Anita relapsed, but it was too late. Her disease had morphed into a multiple drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). MDR-TB affects three million people worldwide, and it kills 80 percent of the patients.

There is a treatment that is even more difficult to follow. It lasts for two years and includes six months of daily, painful injections. Moreover, the drugs are toxic. They cause many side effects like nausea, thyroid disturbance, and even psychological problems.

Anita suffered these side effects, which brought in unbearable pain. At some point, she was so desperate that she tried to commit suicide. Only the thought of her children stopped her. Also, she was lucky because Operation ASHA (OpASHA) was taking care of her.

A local, meticulous approach

OpASHA is one of the world’s largest nonprofits in tuberculosis treatment and prevention. Dr. Shelly Batra and Sandeep Ahuja started it in 2006.

Back in the 1990s, Dr. Batra started offering free treatments and surgeries to disadvantaged patients. As she needed antiseptics, fluids, anesthetics, she asked her friends and relatives for donations. From 1998 onward, her most regular contributor was Sandeep Ahuja, a government official. In 2006, they teamed up to fight tuberculosis in urban slums and rural-poor communities. This is how Operation ASHA started (”Asha” means “hope”).

Batra and Ahuja decided to take TB care at the doorstep of their patients. In the slums they have used corner shops, health clinics or religious places. They have also sent health workers to villages to give medicine to the patients. That way, people don’t have to go to far away hospitals to get their treatment.

Operation ASHA also developed a portable identification device called eCompliance. It allows them to identify each patient by their fingerprint and significantly improve their follow-up.

Every time Anita took her medication, she had to give her fingerprints. And her health worker had to do it as well. This generated irrevocable evidence that the medicine had been taken in the right conditions. If Anita missed a dose, eCompliance would send an SMS alert to her, her health worker and his supervisor. Her counselor had to meet her within 48 hours and deliver her treatment.

Towards the end of tuberculosis?

how-ecompliance-works

After two years of treatment, Anita recovered and is now completely cured.

Luckily, she is not alone! eCompliance has been implemented in India, Cambodia, Uganda, Dominican Republic and Kenya. Everywhere it has reduced the default rate by 12 times. Today, 98.5 percent of the organization’s patients finish their TB treatment. As fewer and fewer die from the disease or develop its drug resistant form, Operation ASHA is giving hope to millions of people worldwide!

And this is a good news.

5 Reasons Why Mahabir Pun Could Change the Face of Himalaya

Mahabir

Mahabir Pun is a Nepalese teacher. In 2002, he launched the Nepal Wireless Networking Project. His dream was to connect the remote villages of Himalaya to the World Wide Web. Here is how he did it. In less than a decade…

  1. He had a visionary father

Unlike most men of his generation, Pun’s father believed in education. In the Himalayan village of Nangi where he was born, most pupils dropped out by the age of 12. With no textbook and unqualified teachers, the students would often lose motivation to study, and the boys preferred to become Gurkhas like their dad. Albeit a former soldier himself, Pun’s father did not want his son to join the army. Instead, he sold his belongings, moved to the city with his family, and sent Pun to high school.

  1. He committed to improve the education of Nepalese children

In 1989 Pun got a scholarship to study at the University of Nebraska. This experience transformed him! In Nepal he had been teaching for several years, mostly to support his siblings. In America, he committed to help disadvantaged Nepalese children get a better education.

After graduating in 1996, he moved back to Nangi, where he had not been for the past 24 years. At the time, local leaders were establishing the first high school of the village. With his experience and education, Pun soon became a driving force of the project. He organized things, taught, and connected the village to the world. Once a month, he would travel to the nearest town of Pokhara, eight hours away from Nangi. This way he could have access to the Internet, keep contact with his friends abroad, and promote his school online.

  1. He understood remoteness was the key issue of his people

For Pun, isolation was the main reason why Himalayan villages were underdeveloped. It would take hours to go from Nangi to the nearest city, but also to the nearby villages. Moreover, the Maoist rebellion was still active in the end-1990s, and the region was dangerous. For decades the main source of income was the pension money from retired Gurkhas. For the youth, the only hope of a better life was to join the army or move to the cities. And since they had little education, their prospects were rather poor…

  1. He was determined to connect his village to the Internet

When he moved back to Nangi, Pun was already aware of the potential of the Internet. That’s why he dreamed of connecting his village to the web. Of course, with neither electricity nor telephone line, this was a bit of a challenge!

Luckily in 1997 Singaporean climbers stopped at Nangi. Before leaving to Mount Everest, they donated two small hydro generators. Pun installed them and could finally power the used computers he had just received.

The Internet issue proved to be more difficult to solve. Pun first used a radio phone, but the quality was terrible. Unable to find an affordable solution, he contacted the BBC and exposed his dilemma. The broadcaster publicized his question, and he got answers from all over the world. This is how he heard for the first time of the wireless technology.

Two Europeans in particular decided to take up the challenge and, despite Nepal’s political unrest, flew over to Nangi to help him. They brought wireless equipment and supported Pun in establishing a wireless connection. In September 2003, they finally connected the village to Pokhara. For the first time in history, a Himalayan village was part of the World Wide Web!

  1. He has unleashed the potential of his people

In 2006, the government and the Maoist rebellion signed a peace agreement. This enabled Pun to expand his Nepal Wireless Networking Project. Today 175 villages are part of it, and it has brought local people many benefits.

  • Education: the Nepal Wireless Network has addressed the scarcity of qualified teachers. Mountain students now attend online classes, access educational material, and have pen friends abroad. As for the teachers, they can easily exchange tips and ideas with their colleagues.
  • Health care: the network has improved the villagers’ access to health care. Whenever someone is sick, he goes to the local clinic. Whenever they have a doubt, health workers can ask doctors in Pokhora and Katmandu for advice.
  • Economics: the Nepal Wireless Networking Project has allowed mountain villagers to create income-generating activities. They sell their products and offer ecotourism services to the trekkers visiting the Annapurna.

And this is all made possible by the Internet. No wonder Mahabir Pun received the Jonathan B. Postel Service Award in 2014!