About Karen Cirillo

Karen Cirillo is a multimedia producer and editor for international development organizations.

Using ICT to Track Government Services in India

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Basic public services and programs often function inefficiently in India, especially in the poorer states and regions. One problem is the delivery of services to the people who are entitled to them, and the lack of accountability in making sure they are actually receiving the services. Traditionally, one of the main methods of tracking needs and problems is Jan Sunwai, a public hearing process that surveys citizens and gives them the opportunity to ask questions or register objections to a panel of elected representatives, NGO experts, government officials, etc… Panel topics are prepared based on issues gathered from door-to-door surveys, and citizens are invited to voice their grievances at the panel. In the best cases, these grievances are resolved.

This form of reporting can be intimidating for women and marginalized groups, which is where technology can provide a faceless-interface technology. “Samadhan – Citizen Action for governance” is one such initiative that is using ICT for more effective governance. In 2010, the joint initiative of UN Millenium Campaign, Collector Sehore and Samarthan, was launched in Sehore, in the Madhya Pradesh district of India.

Samarthan is a non-governmental organization that believes strongly in public participatory governance. They “promote and encourage involvement of local population in planning, execution and monitoring of development projects thereby challenging the mainstream “top-down” development model.” Through the Samadhan platform, citizens can register their complaints and get them resolved by holding the concerned officials accountable.

Samadhan is a web-based Open Source Software, with complaints tracked through online input, SMS, telephone and the more traditional Jan Sunwai. It’s primarily for citizens to directly demand and track their service entitlements provided by national and state government programs. The focus was to strengthen the government initiatives by getting feedback from the citizens on the delivery and quality of services from various departments.

Complaints can be made around a wide variety of issues, including education, food and civil supplies, rural employment, sanitation, public health, agriculture and family welfare. Registrants have the ability to track their complaints through the system and get feedback at closure of their grievances through SMS.

The initiative was developed with the collaboration of local civil society organizations (CSOs), which contributed greatly to its success by bridging the gaps between the government and the citizens. Youth volunteers in 200 Panchayats (local self-government institutions at the village or small town level) and the municipality of Sehore promoted the concept of the platform to provide formal feedback to the district administration. The feedback was then analyzed from the perspectives of the most poor and vulnerable sections of the society.

“The main challenge was to build technology for the poorest communities so that they can use it with ease to get access to their rights and entitlements,” notes Mr. Manohar Dubey, Additional Secretary, Public Service Management, GoMP. “The front end interacting with the citizens should use the simplest of all the technologies. The technology should be citizen-centric and not developer-centric.”

Over 5500 complaints were filed in Samadhan in the last one and a half years, and over 56 percent have been resolved. As more people bring voice to issues and problems, it ultimately puts pressure on the system to change and improve. Programs can be targeted more effectively and reach more areas of the country.

“Unlike other e-governance driven initiatives, this project was initiated and developed independently of any government interference and hence we [were] able to develop the system from both a citizen’s and activist’s point of view, rather than just an administrator’s point of view,” explains Mr. Pankaj Lal, Founder and CEO, Tangere Infotech.

There have been some challenges to the system. Some of the more rural districts cannot access the platform, so administrators have allowed the residents to register their complaints at the local level.   But these complaints are registered manually, so are not monitored as closely, leading to delays in resolution. The shift of registering complaints from SMS to the Jan Sunwai system resulted in some sectors feeling shut out of the participatory process. (SMS provides a faceless interface, which was more encouraging for women and marginalized groups to access.)

As this was a pilot initiative, withdrawal of the UNMC and Samarthan was agreed upon and the platform was turned over to the Sehore administration to manage. Before the handover, they organized a Experience Sharing Workshop on ICT for Effective Governance.   During the workshop, the organizers shared major learning from the pilot initiative with peer groups and concerned higher officials of Madhya Pradesh; discussed the up-scale of the initiative in all the districts in the state; and allowed for the sharing experiences of other CSOs in their ICT initiatives for social change in India.

ICT does not solely improve governance. True improvements need to happen within the system itself, but ICT can certainly influence accountability, transparency and better deliverance of good governance.

Tackling Math with Technology in the Philippines

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The Asian stereotype of excellence in math doesn’t currently apply in the Philippines. In schools across the country, students are struggling to learn and retain necessary math skills.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2 ranks the Philippines 115th out of 142 countries in perceived quality of Math and Science education.

What contributes to this low level of competency in mathematics? Dr. Carlo Magno, of De La Salle University’s College of Education in Manila, suggests the problem lies in lack of consistent curriculum, teacher training and deeper learning.

There is generally no country-wide curriculum or official guide for teachers to ensure the basic needs are met, and what guides do exist are written in formal language not approachable for the average teacher.   Teaching is based on computation, not comprehension of the concepts behind the numbers. Without that deeper understanding of mathematics, students don’t retain the knowledge.

Lessons are given in quick succession and there is little sequence or progress in mathematics instruction. In addition, large class sizes, insufficient preparation of public school teachers (67% of multi-grade teachers less than 5 years of experience.) and lack of quality educational materials contribute to poor instruction and there are few technological resources that could aid in learning.

The Philippines government is turning to technology to meet these challenges by utilizing innovations in ICT and education. In 2011, Department of Science and Technology (DOST) Secretary Mario G. Montejo initiated the project “Technology Package for Student Learning Empowerment.” The idea was to create new forms of educational content, especially for primary education, to improve the quality of Philippine education. By utilizing efficient and affordable software and hardware, students can benefit from new ways of learning.

The initiative is a collaboration across sectors: The Science Education Institute (SEI) of DOST financed and monitored the project; the University of the Philippines National Institute for Science and Math Education (UP-NISMED) wrote the lesson scripts; the Advanced Science and Technology Institute (ASTI) provided hardware and software resources; the Department of Education made possible the pilot testing of the material in public schools;  and the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development supported the production.

Developing Material

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The first step was to develop material to supplement math teaching and learning in the classroom. The new material featured lessons compatible with both the Department of Education’s existing Basic Education and the proposed K-12 curricula. The approach was to create ten lessons in mathematics with 16 activities, fixing skills and evaluations using animated interactivities to make learning more fun. “Our courseware was meant to supplement—not replace—traditional textbooks, lessons and teachers,” noted curriculum expert Dr. Queena N. Lee-Chua.

Modules are divided into three parts: Activity, Fixing Skills, and Evaluation. “Activity” shows/explains the lesson, 
“Fixing Skills” are exercises that increase understanding of the lesson and mastery of the concept, while “Evaluation” tests the pupils’ lesson comprehension. Experts from UP-NISMED drafted the scripts and eventually transformed the concepts into lessons.

The Grade1 Mathematics Courseware is a set of interactive multimedia lessons covering topic such as classifying objects, comparing and ordering sets of objects and numbers
, adding and subtracting whole numbers, partitioning numbers into halves and fourths, and measuring length using nonstandard units.

The next stage was the design and development of the lessons as courseware. DOST-ASTI and a team of local skilled graphic artists and programmers assisted with the digitization of lessons, which involved interface designing, programming, animation, audio mixing and, finally, the integration of all elements to produce a courseware.

Using Adobe Flash and the open source Flash Develop, the digital courseware introduces mathematical concepts through familiar situations, as well as catchy songs, chants and lively characters for pupils to easily identify with. (Lessons start with animated Filipino characters presented with a situation easily solved by math. )

Training and Testing

The next step was to train teachers how to utilize the courseware to maximize its instructional potential. A select group of teachers from the 20 proposed recipient schools were guided through the use of courseware and how to design lesson plans to integrate it. They were also trained to facilitate the pupils’ use of technology while monitoring the class overall.

Once teachers were trained, the hardware and software packages were disseminated to various public school students across the country to test the lesson material, identify possible problems and implement adjustments and remedies if needed.

The committee identified ten elementary schools from different parts of the country to be involved in the pilot testing. They distributed the courseware, along with the hardware units (Coby touchscreen tablets) necessary to operate it.

Discovery and Recommendations

Various metrics were used to measure the effectiveness of using tablet computers as a learning tool. Pre-tests and post-tests were given to both experimental and control groups, and the scores of the students who used the courseware soared, compared to those who did not.

Interaction between pupils was limited, because each student was provided with his or her own tablet to use. Several concepts in math, however, are better retained through cooperative learning or pair work. Since tablets tend to foster individual learning, without the benefits of idea exchange, it was recommended to have two students share a tablet, especially while doing the Activity or Fixing Skills portions where they could interact to solve problems.

Not surprisingly, unfamiliarity with tablet technology caused issues. Some pupils unconsciously placed their finger on their mouth or nose and then used the same finger to tap the screen, smudging it and making the equipment tedious to clean afterwards. If the tablets did not respond, some students would continue tapping, which sometimes caused the equipment to hang. Thus, it was recommended to replace the tablets with laptops or netbooks, which are more resistant to mishandling, can be more cost-effective, and are easier to handle as keyboards.

With the success of the Grade 1 curriculum, Grades 2 to 6 Mathematics Courseware was developed. This time, the courseware was loaded onto a netbook.
 The project also plans to translate the courseware into various languages.

The Technology Package, which includes Grades 1 – 6 Mathematics courseware, are free of charge and accessible for download through the DOST Courseware Website.

Using Cloud and Mobile Gaming to Fuel Creative Economy in Indonesia

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Positioned at the northern end of Sumatra, Indonesia, Aceh is a special province. It has a long history of political conflict and was one of the hardest-hit provinces during the 2004 tsunami (an estimated 221,000 people killed or missing). Reconstruction and rehabilitation projects have brought more technology and communications infrastructure to the region, and the province’s capital Banda Aceh is becoming a leader in adopting Internet and information technology.

The economic growth, however, is still slow. According to the Indonesia Statistics Agency, the province’s poverty rate of 18% is the 5th highest in the country and far above the 11% national average. Its unemployment rate (2012) was 9.10%, the 3rd highest in the nation, where the national average is 6.14%.

The Aceh Cloud and Mobile Gaming Boot Camp seeks to empower young people with marketable technology skills, empower them to see the internet as a self-development tool and increase local economic growth through creative economy. The project is in line with the Strategic Plan of Creative Economic Development Indonesia 2025 about the placement of software application development and digital gaming as part of a creative economy group that has been encouraged to grow in Indonesia.

While only 15% of Indonesians have internet access, the country has 281 million mobile subscribers. A Pew Global Research study finds that 78% of the Indonesia’s population has a mobile phone. Penetration of smart phones has reached 23%, providing online capabilities where traditional infrastructure is lacking. As internet and mobile applications gain popularity, cloud gaming can offer new opportunities for local youth to be self-employed and create their own business.

The main objective of the bootcamp is to train community members in developing cloud and mobile gaming applications in multiplatform environments, such as Windows 8, Android and iOs. Several technologies are used in the context of training:

  • Cloud Computing related technologies (Google Drive, Dropbox, Google App Engine),
  • Game Development (Game Engines) related technologies (Construct 2, Unity, Corona, Cocos2D),
  • Game Design related technologies (Photoshop, CorelDraw), and
  • Multi-platform development related technologies (CoconJs, CrossWalk, Titanium, PhoneGap).

After learning technologies and concepts, participants work in groups to develop cloud and mobile game applications. In additional to technical skills on game development and design, the participants are also taught technopreneurship knowledge on startup formulation and online marketing strategies for app monetization.

The first boot camps were held 12-20 April 2014 in two cities in Aceh province. 110 Indonesians from diverse backgrounds (secondary school, high school and university students, along with some professionals) participated in the camps. At least 25 cloud and mobile game applications were developed out of the boot camp and will be put forth to compete for the Banda Aceh Madani City Award (which organizers are planning as the last stage of implementation of the project). In addition, at least five game software personal edition licenses have been distributed to support sustaining the development of the games by the community members.

The inaugural camps received the support of international organizations, nation companies and institutions and local government and communities. The camps’ success led the mayor of Banda Aceh to allocate money in its yearly city program budget for future boot camps. Bootcamp 2014 also boosted the value of Banda Aceh’s technology development programs in its community and contributed to the city’s winning of the IDSA (Indonesian Digital Society Award) 2014 by the Ministry of Information and Communication of Indonesia.