Information & communication technologies – computers, the internet, mobile phones – offer solutions to a vast array of problems as well as providing new ways of connecting people. Much of this innovation is being driven by people in developing countries. Investigating and using these ideas could help students learn about development and, perhaps more importantly, learn from parts of the world that they previously may not have considered cutting-edge in this field.
This is a huge subject, and we really only scratch the surface in this feature, but we hope to show a range of interesting aspects to technology that you and your students can explore in more depth.
These topics link into a number of primary and secondary curriculum subjects, including Science, Design & Technology, Geography, Citizenship, Politics and Sociology.
A great website to check out is AfriGadget – a blog that explores ways in which the people of Africa solve everyday problems. It illustrates how people living in poverty make the most of their limited resources – students can learn from their simplicity of approach and their thriftiness. This video, featured on the blog, shows some of the projects on show at Maker Faire Africa, an exhibition of African ingenuity held in Lagos, November 2012.
Many African citizens would be amazed to hear that mobile banking has only crept into the awareness of UK phone users in the last couple of years. Mobile banking has been in use in many African countries for several years now, and it’s not the only clever way they’re making use of the technology.
M-Pesa: Kenya’s mobile money transfer technology used by over 50% of the adult population to pay for shopping, taxis or to send money abroad. The M stands for mobile, and Pesa is Swahili for money.
- YouTube – Film clip showing how M-Pesa works for William Ndirangu who runs a shoe cleaning business
- BBC News – M-Pesa: Kenya’s mobile wallet revolution
- Economist – The bank of SMS – has a map showing the extent of ‘mobile-money users’ in Africa
Voting by text: Citizens in the conflict-affected province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo were able to vote for local budget priorities via text messages. As a result, for the first time in decades, local budgets included investments in local communities, providing basic services to the poor, and in response, citizens started to pay taxes. Watch a video clip about this ‘participatory budgeting’ on YouTube.
Pascal Katana’s ‘Fish Detector‘: With the aid of a mobile phone it can acoustically detect shoals of fish and alert nearby fishermen by SMS. Read more on the AfriGadget website: Fish ‘call’ the Fisherman.
App to locate where you can buy condoms: It is hoped this will reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in both more and less developed countries. Read more on the iCondom website.
But mobile phone technology hasn’t only had positive effects on the continent. The minerals used in mobile phones, smartphones and tablets have contributed to conflict in several countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo. Looking more widely than Africa, there are also concerns about the treatment of workers involved in the production of these devices:
- Daily Mail article on working hours in an iPhone factory
- Interactive map on SourceMap showing where the components of a typical laptop come from
- There is no ethical smartphone – describes one gadget-obsessed man’s ethical dilemma and explores many of the issues involved in smartphone production.
- Read about Fairphone – an initiative to develop a more ethically-sourced smartphone.
More on mobiles:
- Gapminder – visualisation of how numbers of fixed line and mobile phone subscribers have changed over time
- Futures Centre – Mobile phone payments revolutionise energy access in Kenya
- Guardian – Philippines switches on to using SMS in typhoon and disaster response – getting information out quickly when disasters strike and to help better coordinate responses to crises.
Opinions are divided – a tool to overthrow oppression or junk food for the brain? Either way it’s impossible to deny the impact social media has had on people’s lives all around the world.
- NY Times – A Tunisia-Egyptian link that shook Arab history – the links made between protesters on blogs, Twitter and Facebook, during the Arab Spring
- New Internationalist – The role of social networking during the Arab Spring
The Kony 2012 campaign used the ‘viral’ effect of social media to raise a lot of awareness about a specific conflict in northern Uganda. Whether you loved or loathed the whole phenomenon, there is a lot of potential in using it to get students exploring issues around campaigning and child soldiers.
- Guardian – How to teach… Kony 2012 – very comprehensive article
- React and Respond – the phenomenon of Kony 2012 (PDF) a useful and detailed guide for teachers from the University of Carolina African Studies Center.
The greatest invention of all time..?
Kenya was the first country on the African continent to launch a national open data initiative. It is now possible for anyone with access to the internet to obtain census or budget data, check on spending at the county level or even find a nearby health facility. Read more: Kenya opens its books in revolutionary transparency drive.
BBC News Connect Africa page has stories from people across Africa about how the internet has changed – and is changing – their lives.
Google wants technology and the internet to connect people and find new ways of solving humanity’s big problems, quite a tall order. Their latest project aims to stop drug cartels in Mexico by enabling citizens to report criminal activity without fear. Read more about this on the Phys.org website – Google Ideas has also launched the Against Violent Extremism site, which aims to generate positive discussions between former terrorists and their victims.
Articles from the BBC:
- Interactive map to help visualise the changing number of people online since 1998
- New Africa broadband link ‘ready’ (2009)
- Connected Africa – audio from the BBC World Service on broadband in Africa
Many of us are keen to have the latest gadgets but what happens to phones, computers and TVs when they are no longer welcome in our homes? Millions of tonnes of electronic waste are produced every year.
- Powerful Greenpeace video clip on electronic waste (5.5 minutes)
- Uh-Oh! What do we do with our e-waste? – science investigation
- Featured in this picture (right) is the Eden Project’s WEEE Man – made from a household’s electronic waste, over a lifetime – check out the teeth made from mice! Could your students come up with something similarly creative? You could also use this world map made from recycled computer parts as inspiration.
- Some interesting talks on digital technology in Africa, from the RGS.
- Kwanja.net – website linking technological innovation with development – has video, photos and case studies.
- Aid agencies ‘must use new tools’ – BBC News article on aid agencies using new technologies to improve humanitarian work.
What about using Skype, podcasts or blogs to share information with a partner school? Students could think about how they represent themselves and their area with My Place Through a Lens – a lesson prepared by Schools Linking – or use some of the ideas featured on the DfID website.
Plan UK’s school linking programme used Frontline SMS to improve communication between schools. Rural schools in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Kenya and China (who had no reliable access to the internet) were given phones to text their partner schools.
If you have any further suggestions for useful websites or activities exploring new technologies, please let us know in the comments box below.
The photo at the top of this page is ‘Mobile money services in Haiti’ by the Gates Foundation on flickr.com, and is used under a Creative Commons licence.
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