Pakistani Farmers Need Better Agriculture Content to Increase Productivity with ICTs


Pakistan’s agriculture sector employs over 40% of the population and contributes to 21% of the GDP. Other sectors are directly dependent, with the textile industry including raw cotton, contributing 11% of the GDP. Despite this importance, the sector has been struggling due to underdevelopment. Land rights and irrigation issues are clear policy and community issues. However, proper soil maintenance and low crop yields can be solved through working with farmers.

What are the main challenges that farmers face?

Crop yields have been low with stagnant growth since 1999. Pakistan’s production is 40% behind its neighboring countries. The harvest often goes to waste due to weak storage and transportation methods. Farmers are competing with large-scale agribusinesses that have access to resources, education and information. While extension programs send workers to educate farmers, most farmers view the programs as ineffective in disseminating information. The extension workers are often poorly trained and it is expensive for the workers to access many villages.

What current solutions are available?

USAID has partnered with Telenor, a telecom service provider, to provide mobile banking, information on weather and market prices to 1,700 farmers. mAgricorner is one of the first mobile apps focused on Pakistani farmers. It provides market prices, farm advisory and trading. 4 out of 5 telecom providers in Punjab have agriculture services using interactive voice response (IVR). Also the government began using satellite imagery to predict crop yields in the upcoming seasons.

What are the attitudes toward technology solutions?

A research study by CABI surveyed farmers in Punjab Province, one of the most fertile and populated regions in Pakistan. The farmers proved most interested in receiving voice calls and text messaging. Despite the stereotypes of most farmers, they are eager for more experimentation with ICT and agriculture.

What are the concerns moving forward?

A main issue is quality of content. Many farmers haven’t used the existing tools because the content quality is low. They often find the information too general and not relevant to their region and type of farm. Also, there is low market penetration of such tools even in Punjab. Although the government is launching satellite data initiative, the focus is to prevent food shortage through better import estimates not increasing crop yields. While there is significant research being done by the government and NGOs, there needs to be stronger focus on ensuring that research is utilized to increase agricultural productivity.

Angelina Nonye-John is a researcher and writer with Mansa Colabs

3 Reasons IPaidABribe Is Only For India’s Middle Class Citizens


With the rise in participatory development over the last few decades, there have been increasing discussions about power between NGO professionals and the stakeholders that they serve. Often these conversations can centre on international power imbalances (e.g., North v. South), yet with the rise of various middle classes and their civil society activism over the past few decades, questions have also been raised about class hierarchies domestically, especially in India.

Emblematic in these questions about class is the role of ICTs in NGO projects facilitating citizen participation in governance. In a country with over 900 million mobile subscriptions, with just over ten percent of them being smart phone plans, India has been called the next smartphone frontier. Moving away from discussions merely about citizens’ access to ICTs as a barrier to participation, other questions must also be asked by NGOs engaged in ICT4D that depend upon a large volume of users for programmatic “success”.

One of these tough questions centres on the class makeup of one’s organisation and its effects on the tools provided to empower citizens. The case I examine here is that of (IPAB), where I spent seven wonderful months as a volunteer researcher during my MA studies. Informed by discourses in the anthropology of development, as well as historical and contemporary research on India’s middle classes, I contend that a number of the NGO’s perceived barriers to citizens utilising IPAB were limited by the class-based experiences of the staff.

In particular, there seemed to be three limiting assumptions about users’ language skills, understandings of corruption and barriers to higher user rates:

  • Written English fluency was not seen as a hindrance to citizen participation, or at least deemed as important from a programming perspective
  • All corruption is morally wrong and should be fought against by all citizens
  • The only barrier to higher user rates was simply access to the Internet, not how various citizens already use their own mobile devices

It is estimated that 30% of the Indian population have “some semblance” of English fluency, or at least the ability to communicate orally in English, while roughly 10% have written and grammatical fluency as well. Given the historical marker of English being part of an elite or middle class identity, it is difficult to grasp how a country of over 30 languages and hundreds of dialects would benefit from an English-only platform. Furthermore, the dismal amount of reports on the Hindi portal can possibly be seen as a class-based distinction in IPAB’s reporting.


Considering Anna Hazare and other high profile anti-corruption activists in the early 2010s, some argue that the middle classes were united under a specific definition of corruption, to be seen as morally reprehensible and to be resisted at all costs. Janaagraha’s iPledge campaign is emblematic of this concept of corruption, where users are asked to sign a pledge that they will never pay a bribe and that the power of making change rests in refusing to give a bribe to whatever party is demanding it.

This concept breaks down when anthropological discourses of corruption, such as de Sardan, bring forth the idea that various moral logics of kinship and community complicate defining corruption and its moral implications. One can use the example of the street vendor, who does not possess the money to pay for a license, who bribes the local police officer with a percentage of his or her earnings to not be removed from the sidewalk. While this fits the definition of petty corruption, it may not be seen as morally wrong because the vendor can continue providing a livelihood for his or her family. Considering Chatterjee, the urban poor can find inventive ways to circumvent established laws for the sake of their livelihoods, where ‘legal’ courses might be out of reach.

Reporting & Internet Access

In India, there are over 900 million people who subscribe to mobile telephone plans, many of which do possess basic mobile browsers. However, only 110-120 million of these subscriptions are for smart phones, an arguably much easier route for using Internet-based platforms such as IPAB. One of the issues encountered is seeing access to the Internet as the biggest or one of the only barriers to a citizen using an ICT4D tool to report corruption.

During my research, I performed interviews and ethnographic research on auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore. They were often the objects of corruption reporting because they tended to demand higher-than-metre-rates for taking their generally middle class customers for rides. Even though nearly all of them had access to the Internet on their basic mobile phones, only a handful used the Internet features or even knew what the Internet’s purpose was. Of those few who did use their mobile Internet, most used it for games or music.

Many auto-rickshaw drivers were also victims of police corruption, heavy licensing fees and predatory lending schemes, which gave rise to why they demanded higher-than-metre-rates. However, in many social media posts and articles from IPAB staff and interactive users online, auto-rickshaw drivers were seen as another ‘urban woe’ about how corrupt India had become and essentially a lower class ‘demon’ figure.

With much funding from Indian and international IT companies, as well as western philanthropists, Janaagraha is at the forefront of technocratic middle class activism and governance in urban India. While its causes are often just and necessary, some of its programmes seemingly cannot escape its middle class organizational makeup and users. Like much of the ‘new middle class’ activism across urban India, languages invoking human/consumer rights are often utilised to create their preferred city, sometimes at the expense of the urban poor.

One would not know this from the language of liberation in English media that has covered the IPAB platform, both domestically and internationally. However, certain questions must be asked by NGO professionals in these contexts, to try and live up to the organisational mission of improving the livelihoods and experiences of ALL urban citizens. Difficult, introspective questions must be asked about one’s own language choices, moral responses to perceived governance failures, potential users’ already-existing interactions with technology and potential ‘organisational blinders’ based upon the staff makeup to ensure that, directly or indirectly, the social ills an organisation is trying to alleviate are not replicated or reinforced through one’s own programmes.

Chris Speed is an ICT4D researcher and content developer based in Nashville, TN, USA.

Facebook Safety Check for the Nepal Earthquake


Like many of you, I started to receive Facebook notices on Saturday telling me my friends in Nepal were “marked safe” on Facebook’s Nepal Earthquake Safety Check feature. Launched on the 3rd anniversary of the Japanese Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, the feature is designed to help Facebook users know who of their friends is accounted for in a natural disaster.

Safety Check looks to be a great feature. By alerting others to someone’s post-disaster status, Facebook users can speed up the process of response and recovery. While we often focus on the physical disruption in a disaster, there is an equal or larger emotional disruption.

In the 2014 sinking of the Korean MV Sewol ferry, the entire nation of Korea was traumatized, partly because parents didn’t know which children died and which survived. A Facebook Safety Check could have helped reduced the immediate impact of the capsizing.

For the Nepal earthquake, knowing who is safe, and alleviating worry, is a great benefit for everyone. Thank you Facebook.

Why Should You Care If Your Satellite Link Oscillates?


As part of a 2014 project supported by ISIF Asia and Internet NZ, we’ve been going to a number of satellite-connected islands in the Pacific on behalf of the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC) to see whether we could make better use of their satellite links using network-coded TCP. One of the phenomena we came across even before we got to the network coding part seemed a bit of an oddity at first. At second glance offered an opportunity to look and learn.

Let me paint you a scenario: You have a remote Pacific island with a few thousand inhabitants. There’s plenty of demand for Internet, but the place isn’t overly wealthy, so the only affordable way to connect it to the rest of the world is via a geostationary satellite system. Bandwidth on such satellites is very expensive, so our island needs to make do with inward bandwidth in the tens of Mbps – anything more breaks the bank. Both locally and offshore, the satellite link connects to something that can carry hundreds or thousands of Mbps.

Now you talk to plenty of islanders and you get to hear the horror stories of web pages that never load, computers that never see an update, connections that time out, and so on. So if you could eavesdrop on the satellite link, what would you expect to find?

I guess that, like us, you’d expect to find the link hopelessly overloaded, with packets rushing across it nose-to-tail without gaps. You’d expect to see nearly 100% of the link’s capacity in use nearly 100% of the time. So imagine our surprise when we looked at the satellite link utilisation in a couple of locations and found it to be well below 100%. One large island never saw more than 75% even during time periods of just a few seconds, with the average utilisation being around 60%. Another island didn’t tap into more than one sixth of the theoretically available capacity. Looking at the same links, we found that small parts of our data streams were getting wiped ever so often – which is what we would have expected with overloaded links.

Seems weird? Not quite so. The effect is actually quite well described in literature under the heading “queue oscillation”. It’s generally associated with router queues at Internet bottlenecks. So what is it, and why is it happening on geostationary satellite links?

What is queue oscillation?

Let’s use an analogy: Trying to get data from a sender to a receiver through an Internet bottleneck is a bit like trying to pour expensive wine from a barrel into a bottle using a funnel. Think about you & the barrel as the data sender; the bottle is the receiver, and the funnel (at the input of which the wine will bank up) is the satellite ground station where data arrives to be transmitted via the link. The link itself is literally the bottleneck.

The goal of the exercise is to fill the bottle as quickly as possible, while spilling an absolute minimum of the valuable wine. To do so, you’ll want to ensure that the funnel (your queue) is never empty, but also never overflows. Imagine that you do this by yourself and that you get to hold the barrel right above the funnel. Sounds manageable? It probably is (unless you’ve had too much of the wine yourself).

OK, now let’s turn this into a party game – in real life many computers download via a satellite link simultaneously. Moreover, a lot of the data senders aren’t anywhere near the satellite ground station. So imagine that you put the bottle with the funnel under the end of a (clean) downpipe, and you get a few friends with barrels (your broadband senders) to tip the wine into the (clean) gutter on the roof. You watch the funnel’s fill level at ground floor and let your friends know whether to pour more or less in. You’re only allowed two types of feedback: “Wine flowing into bottle!” and “Funnel overflowing!”

Bet that filling the bottle is going to take longer with a lot more spillage this way, even if you’re all completely sober? Why? Because your friends have no control over the wine that’s already in the gutter and the downpipe – it’s this wine that causes the overflows. Similarly, if you run out of wine in the funnel, new liquid takes a while to arrive from above. Your funnel will both be empty and overflow at times.

A geostationary satellite link carrying TCP/IP traffic behaves almost exactly the same: The long feedback loop between TCP sender and receiver makes it extremely difficult to control the data flow rate. The fact that multiple parties are involved just makes it a lot worse. On average, users on the island get the impression that the link is a lot slower – and indeed they can access only a part of the capacity they’re paying for and that is being provisioned to them. With satellite bandwidth retailing for hundreds of dollars per megabit per second per month, that’s a lot of money for nothing.

Who is to blame?

The culprit is quite simply the TCP protocol, which controls data flow across the Internet. More precisely, it’s TCP’s flow control algorithm. This algorithm exists in various interoperable flavours, none of which was designed specifically with shared narrowband geostationary satellite links in mind. So, if you happen to live in the Islands, it’s not your evil local monopoly ISP, nor the price-gouging satellite provider, the government, or the fact that you may consider yourself a developing country.

In TCP’s defence: The problem it would have to solve here is pretty tricky – as you’ll no doubt find out if you try the wine analogy. Even if your friends on the roof are pretty switched on, they’ll still spill plenty of the stuff. Unfortunately, as you’d find out, using a bigger funnel doesn’t help much (it’d still overflow). Explicit congestion notification (ECN) isn’t really workable in this scenario either, and we don’t want to limit the number of simultaneous TCP connections on the link either. So we need a Plan B.

Plan B: Could network coding help?

A solution that we have been experimenting with is the use of network-coded tunnels, a project under the auspices of the Pacific Island Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC), supported by ISIF Asia and Internet NZ. Network coding is a technology fresh out of the labs, and in this case we’ve been using a solution pioneered by colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. and Aalborg University in Denmark. The idea behind network coding is based on systems of linear equations, which you might remember from school, like these:

4x + 2y + 3z = 26
2x + 5y + 2z = 19
3x + 3y + 3z = 24

You might also remember that you can solve such a system (find the values of x, y and z) as long as you have – broadly speaking – at least as many equations as you have variables. In network coding, our original data packets are the variables, but what we actually send through our tunnel are the numbers that make up the equations. At the other end, we get to solve the system and recover the value of the variables. As there’s a risk that some of the equations might get lost enroute, we just send a few extra ones for good measure.

We build our tunnels such that one end is on the “mainland” and the other on the island, which puts the tunnel right across the point at which we lose stuff (spill the wine or lose equations, as you wish). So how does this help with queue oscillation? Simple: Since we generate extra equations, we now have more equations than variables. This means we can afford to lose a few equations in overflowing queues or elsewhere – and still get all of our original data back. TCP simply doesn’t get to see the packet loss, and so doesn’t get frightened into backing off to a crawl.

Does this actually work?

Yes it does. How do we know? We have two indicators: Link utilisation and goodput. In our deployment locations with severe queue oscillation and low link utilisation, we have seen link utilisation increase to previously unobserved levels during tunnelled downloads. The tunnelled connections (when configured with a suitable amount of overhead) provide roughly the same goodput as conventional TCP under non-oscillating low packet loss conditions. Tunnelled goodput exhibits a high degree of stability over time, whereas that of conventional TCP tends to drop mercilessly under queue oscillation.

“So, tell us, how much better are the network-coded tunnels compared to standard TCP?” Let me note here that we can’t create bandwidth, so this question can be largely reformulated as “How bad can it get for standard TCP?” We’ve seen standard TCP utilise between roughly 10% and 90% of the available bandwidth. On the island with 60% average utilisation, we were able to achieve goodput rates across our network-coded TCP tunnel that were up to 10 times higher than those of conventional TCP – during the times when conventional TCP struggled badly. At other times, conventional TCP did just fine and a network-coded tunnel with 20% overhead provided no extra goodput. However, that’s an indication that, strictly speaking, we wouldn’t have needed all the overhead, and a tunnel with less overhead would have performed better at these times.

So the trick to getting this to work well in practice is to get the amount of overhead just right. If we don’t supply enough extra equations, we risk that losses aren’t covered and the encoded TCP connections lose data and slow down. If we supply too many equations, they take up valuable satellite bandwidth. That’s also undesirable. What we really want is just enough of them, so we’re currently discussing with the supplier of the software we’ve been using, Steinwurf ApS of Denmark, to see whether they can add feedback from decoder to encoder for us.

Written by Dr. Ulrich Speidel with support from Etuate Cocker, Péter Vingelmann, Janus Heide, and Muriel Médard. Thanks go to Telecom Cook Islands, Internet Niue, Tuvalu Telecommunications Corporation, MIT and, close to home, to the IT operations people at the University of Auckland for putting up with a whole string of extremely unusual requests!

Amader Daktar: Improving Rural Health Care via Telemedicine


There is one doctor per 5,000 people in Bangladesh, but doctors are not evenly distributed within the population, which means that for the majority of rural Bangladeshi, doctors are a rarity. So how can rural people have access to quality medical care?

Doctor in a Tab

Enter mPower Social Enterprises and their Amader Daktar “doctor in a tab” solution that aims to improve rural health care and reduce the number of people whose illnesses are aggravated by a lack of, or delay in, proper diagnosis and treatment. The service currently has 200 locations in Bangladesh and has served over 1,200 clients to date.

Amader Daktar is a tablet PCs and a custom-made app that allows rural healthcare practitioners to act as a telemedicine assistant. The tablet allows an rural medical professional to register patients and pass on vital medical information over mobile internet, which can then be viewed on a web portal by a remote doctor.

The doctor can then initiate a video call to talk to the frontline healthcare worker and the patient sitting in any village bazaar (with access to mobile internet). In the best case scenario, the doctor can then create and send a prescription over the internet to the healthcare worker who can then print it out at his end and hand it over to the patient.

In cases where remote consultations are insufficient, the doctor can advise the patient on the next course of action and recommend nearby facilities that can provide the necessary services.

Expansion into Myanmar

mPower Social Enterprises recently won the $10,000 USAID Mobiles for Development Award and will  expand its Amader Daktar service into Myanmar in partnership with mobile network operator, Telenor, in order to reach rural populations where health care services are difficult to access.

Sai Fah: Gamified Disaster Risk Reduction for Southeast Asia

Sai Fah: The Flood Fighter is the first gamification mobile app on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). The game follows the adventures of a young boy on a journey to reunite with his mother during a flood disaster. Players learn flood safety lessons as they encounter flood hazards, from live electrical current to dangerous wildlife.

The Thai version of Sai Fah was launched in January 2014. Shortly after its debut, the game reached the No.1 position in the Game/Education category on the iOS platform in Thailand and ranked among the top 70 overall apps in the country. Sai Fah is available in both Thai and English languages. Sai Fah was covered by many international media and became one of official education app recommended by the Ministry of Education in Thailand.

Sai Fah also incorporates a collection of teaching and learning materials on Disaster Risk Reduction in various formats for teachers and learners to download for extended explorations beyond the mobile application.

Sai Fah has been downloaded over 40,000 times in 114 countries and French and Bahasa Indonesia versions are coming up in 2015. UNESCO Bangkok also started to develop Sai Fah 2 on Earthquake and Tsunami experiences with the Red Cross and USAID.

Fighting Maternal and Infant Mortality in India Through Community SMS Text Reporting


The state of Assam leads the country with the highest maternal mortality ratio (MMR), and one of the highest infant mortality ratios (IMR) in India. These health indicators persist despite the right to safe motherhood protected by the Indian Constitution and guaranteed under national laws and policies. The lack of data on the Adivasi community makes it particularly difficult to address some of the gaps in the implementation of maternal and infant health policies.

For this reason, Nazdeek, PAJHRA and ICAAD have developed the Project “End Maternal Mortality Now” (End MM Now). Launched in April 2014, the Project trained a group of 40 women volunteers living in Balipara and Dhekiajuli Blocks in the Sonitpur District of Assam to identify and report cases of health violations in their communities through SMS. The project has been implemented with the generous support of ISIF Asia.

A major outcome is the report, No Time to Lose: Fighting Maternal and Infant Mortality through Community Reporting. The report brings to light the obstacles that Adivasi women face in obtaining maternal health care in Assam – a state with the highest maternal mortality rate in India.

No Time to Lose is the first attempt in India to collect and map cases of maternal and infant health violations reported by women living in tea gardens through SMS technology. Based on nearly 70 cases reported by community members who participated in the Project, the report offers tangible recommendations for Block and District level health authorities and tea garden management to improve service delivery and save mothers’ and infants’ lives.

“For the first time, civil society in Assam can rely on solid data on the lack of access to maternal health services. Thanks to this data, we have formulated key recommendations to curb the appalling number of maternal deaths among Adivasi women.” – says Barnabas Kindo, from Pajhra.

No Time to Lose identified a significant gap between patients and healthcare providers. Key recommendations include the immediate appointment of a hematologist for the Dhekiajuli Community Health Centre, and the establishment of a more efficient referral system.

“End MM Now has proven to be an invaluable platform for women to monitor and claim access to basic rights and entitlements. Community members have already noted initial positive changes in the delivery of health services”, says Francesca Feruglio, from Nazdeek.

“Shaped by the idea of crowdsourcing, End MM Now maps and visualizes ground-level data, which is verified and made available to the public and the government. This way, the platform bridges an existing information gap and increases transparency in the delivery of health services,” says Jaspreet K. Singh, from ICAAD.

Bridging Nepal’s Urban-Rural Divide in Maternal Healthcare


Nepal’s reduction in maternal mortality is one of the major success stories hailing from the World Health Organizations’ Millennium Development Goals. In 1990, Nepal suffered 790 maternal mortalities per 100,000 live births. By 2013, that number dropped an astonishing 76% to 190 maternal mortalities per 100,000 live births.

While this progress is no doubt phenomenal, much of it occurred in urban areas. About 90% of Nepali women living in urban areas had at least one care visit prior to birth, and 79% had their births attended by skilled health personnel. The experience of rural Nepali women was much different, where only 56% of women had at least one care visit prior to birth and only 37% of women had births attended by skilled health personnel. Simply put, there aren’t enough traditional resources available to provide rural Nepali women with adequate maternal care.

Amakomaya, or “Mothers Love,” has developed a mHealth platform intended to fill this void. It not only maximizes the efficiency of health providers in rural areas, but also provides educational material to pregnant women who would have no access to it otherwise.

Providing Education

Early marriage is a common occurrence in Nepal. While the legal age to marry in Nepal is 20, the median age of first marriage for women aged 20-49 is just 17.2. In rural settings, many of these young women lack access to any sort family planning or maternal health education. Amakomaya intends to provide these at risk women with a variety of educational materials via an Android based mobile phone application (available here). Mobile penetration in Nepal is over 83%, and a large portion of the population have access to a smartphone.

Additionally, where smartphone resources are unavailable, Amakomaya is donating smartphones to Female Community Health Volunteers (FHCV’s). These volunteers will register pregnant women in their local communities for the Amakomaya program, and distribute the programs content.

Once a user registers for the app, she will begin to receive educational materials tailored to her phase of pregnancy. These materials come in the form of audio, video, and text content, and are all provided in Nepali. It educates the user on what is physically occurring during her pregnancy, what she can expect, and steps she can take to improve her health, and the health of her child. The entirety of the program can be downloaded from the Amakomaya website here.

Another critical driver for the success of the Amakomaya program is that at week 28 of pregnancy, the entire family is incorporated. The material is shared with the pregnant woman’s husband, involving him directly in her care.

Amakomaya for Medical Professionals

In addition to educating pregnant women, Amakomaya also increases the efficiency of care offered by healthcare professionals in rural areas. Any advantage that a provider can gain is of serious import in Nepal, where there are only .29 healthcare workers per 1,000 people. This doesn’t come close to the WHO’s guideline of 2.3 healthcare providers per 1,000 for basic lifesaving care.

Healthcare workers who are registered for Amakomaya can view data regarding the number of pregnant women in their local populations, as well as how far along they are in their pregnancies. This data is gathered when women register for Amakomaya, as the program asks for the date of their last menstrual cycle. It allows rural healthcare workers to adequately prepare for upcoming births by notifying them as local women approach their anticipated due dates.

So far almost 1,000 pregnant women have registered for Amakomaya in 15 different health posts, with plans for expansion. While the program can’t substitute for in person care, it can provide rural Nepalese women with the information they need to properly educate themselves about their pregnancies.

Can eVidyaloka Fix the Learning Crisis in Rural India?


In 1954, the United Nations designated November 20 as the Universal Children’s Day. Seventy years have passed, but promoting the welfare of the youth has never been more necessary. Too many youngsters worldwide continue to suffer from poverty, abuse, and premature mortality.

When it comes to education, the situation has improved, but there is still a long way to go. 121 million children remain unschooled; and 69 million adolescents have to drop out. Even for those who can enroll, the perspectives are bleak, as they often do not receive the quality education they deserve.

India’s learning crisis

With a 96 percent enrollment rate, India has almost achieved universal primary education. But the country is now dealing with an acute learning crisis that may threaten its development in the long run. A majority of students comes out of school without basic literacy and numeracy skills. Today, 60 percent of 10-year old pupils cannot read a text, and 74 percent are unable to solve a division problem.

The reasons for this crisis are many, but they start with the lack of trained teachers. India faces a shortage of 1.2 million schoolmasters and a high absenteeism rate. Combining this with the curriculum’s low standards, it is easy to understand why the learning outcome is so poor.

Many urban families respond to the situation by sending their children to private schools. But in the countryside where people earn less, most youngsters have no choice but go to public institutions. With their teachers being absent one day in five, the pupils often lose the motivation to study, and a majority drops out by the age of 14.

Connecting rural students with urban teachers

In 2010, in Bangalore, two friends were troubled by their country’s educational crisis, but they had a dream. They were dreaming of solving it using ICTs. Some would have said such dream was unreasonable. But Satish and Venkat had what it takes to make a difference. They were passionate; they were skillful; they were pragmatic.

Looking at the larger picture, they had realized that the level of education has increased in India over the past twenty years. There are now 40 million university graduates, and some are willing to share their knowledge with the less fortunate. As long as they do not have to leave their day job.

While thinking about this issue, it became obvious for Satish and Venkat that the solution would come from the Internet. At the time, they found some inspiration in the Khan Academy, whose tutorial videos were more and more popular. But since they were focusing on under-educated children, they had to find a way to make the courses live.

Back in 2010, the Internet was expanding in India, and Satish and Venkat took a bold decision. They started a nonprofit called eVidyaloka, traveled to isolated villages, and equipped some classrooms with video-conference materials. This way, the students would just have to go next door to take the class; and their teacher could be anywhere around the world.

Transforming the learning experience

School failure should have been the fate of Rajesh. This 10 year old boy lives in a small village, in the state of Tamil Nadu, Southern India. Like most children there, he goes to a public school.

Rajesh enrolled in the eVidyaloka after-school program before it was too late. And participating in this program has transformed the student he was. Before, he was not so passionate about school; now, he reviews his lessons. Before, he was struggling with math; now, he can solve the divisions by himself. Before, his English was terrible; now, he can speak in an articulated manner.

The reasons for such progress? eVidyaloka teachers lecture in Tamil, Rajesh’s mother tongue. They also use videos and practical examples to explain the concepts. For the young boy, this has been enlightening, and he understands what he is being taught. And since the eVidyaloka program complements his school’s curriculum, it only took a few months for Rajesh to improve his grades!

Opening the door to higher education

Implementing an ICT-driven project in rural India has not been easy for Satish and Venkat. They had to deal with power cuts, slow Internet speed, and even monkeys dislodging the cables. But they received a strong support both from the local communities and the Indian volunteers. This has enabled them to open 13 eVidyaloka classrooms in some of the country’s most underdeveloped regions. And their 179 teachers have changed the lives of more than 1,200 children.

Just like young Rajesh, who can now consider going to high school!

Win $10,000 in USAID’s Mobiles for Development in Asia Award


Do you have a mobile service, product, app, or add-on that is being used to address a development challenge in Asia? Do you want the opportunity to promote your mobile solution to a broader audience of development professionals? If so, apply for the Mobiles for Development in Asia Award!

The Mobiles for Development in Asia Award seeks to identify and highlight promising mobile services, apps, and other innovative uses of mobile technologies. Specifically, the purpose is to recognize Asia-based institutions and their M4D work that have the potential to impact development outcomes in climate change, food security, health, governance, biodiversity, and fisheries. While applications from any country in Asia are welcome emphasis will be placed on organizations and applications with deployments in Southeast Asia.

Key areas of focus are: climate change, food security, health, biodiversity, governance, and fisheries. Applications are due on November 14, 2014 and the complete rules and award criteria can be found here.

The strongest applicants will be invited to present their work at Mobiles for Development Forum Asia 2015 January 20-21, 2015 in Bangkok, Thailand. The Forum will be attended by USAID staff from across Asia, other donors, NGOs, technology companies, mobile network operators, and others.

Up to three finalists will receive a paid trip to Bangkok, including economy- class flights, up to three nights of lodging, and three days of per diem. One winner will receive $10,000 towards further learning and understanding in mobiles for development.