CEMCA: ODL for Development in Asia

(Modified from Commonwealth Connections "InFocus", February 2009)

The Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA) is a regional service of COL based in New Delhi, India. CEMCA’s purpose is to promote the meaningful, relevant and appropriate use of information and communication technology (ICT) to serve the educational and training needs of Commonwealth member states in Asia.

Working in partnership with COL, other international agencies, educational institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), CEMCA is effectively expanding the use of open and distance learning (ODL) for development through a number of innovative initiatives, for example the "EasyNow" and “Science for Women” projects.


CEMCA’s EasyNow is a platform that brings together easy-to-use technologies that enable teachers to create learning materials in an array of delivery modes. What makes EasyNow special is that it allows multiple deliverables from a single electronic source. For instance, a classroom lecture captured on video can be re-packaged and delivered in multiple forms including:

• A video lesson,
• An enriched video incorporating graphics,
• An audio lesson,
• A print-based output using text-to-speech tools,
• A slide show using PowerPoint or other presentation packages, and
• A print-based format.

EasyNow also integrates into formats for learners with visual impairments. EasyNow offers fast downloads, which is particularly important for those with low bandwidth Internet connections.

CEMCA has successfully demonstrated the efficacy of EasyNow in several ODL institutions in India, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. In five-day training workshops, participants working in groups master the simple technologies, record their lessons and deliver them in web-enabled ODL and other formats. Since EasyNow is based on a basket of open source technologies, CEMCA can easily add on features to meet the institution’s need, demand and thrust area.

Science for Women

Science for Women: Health and Nutrition” is a programme that provides illiterate women in resource-poor settings with access to learning about important health issues through community radio.

Initiated by the Indian Department of Science and Technology and implemented by CEMCA, Science for Women is an interactive radio series currently involving 12 community radio stations. This is a participatory process that includes the students and listening communities – the women learn radio production skills and create relevant content using information provided by university partners.

The focus is on health and nutrition, which addresses a significant challenge. While women traditionally bear primary responsibility for the well-being of their families, they are often denied access to education, health care services, job training, and the freedom to use health and family planning services. Women are also often discriminated against as consumers of services, which can lead to neglect of their own heath and well being. The overarching goal of “Science for Women” is behavioural change; an increase in the knowledge, awareness and practice of women towards health and nutrition for themselves and their families.

Every day a 15- to 30-minute “Science for Women” programme is broadcast on the community radio stations with a reach estimated at 12,000 women (and inevitably many men as well) across India. CEMCA is launching a second phase with participation being expanded to 20 community radio stations.

In addition to providing valuable health information, “Science for Women” is creating a bank of content that can be re-used. It is helping women gain skills as announcers, interviewers, writers and programme contributors, while also providing alternate means of livelihood for the community. And it is helping community radio stations gain an identity, an audience and a purpose.


A Digital Library Devoted to Human Resources for Health

The HRH Global Resource Center aims to:

  • Create and maintain a global exchange of HRH evidence, tools and innovation;
  • Foster learning, knowledge sharing and dialogue across sectors, geographical barriers and cultural boundaries; and
  • Accelerate the implementation of evidence-based HRH solutions.


In addition to maintaining a growing collection of HRH resources, the HRH Global Resource Center offers:

  • Personlized librarian support: The GRC librarians can help you locate resources for your work and assist you in finding useful documents in the collection. To request assistance, please use the simple forms on the Contact Us page.
  • Hosting services: Resources created or used in developing countries, such as national HRH strategic plans, are a priority for the GRC. They are happy to consider hosting any such documents that are not currently available on the web as long as they receive permission from the publishing organization.
  • Special collections: We welcome collaborative endeavors with projects working in the field of HRH that do not have a website. The GRC can provide more extensive hosting services for these project resources and can offer an individualized page on the GRC to showcase your work.


Guide to Online Advocacy

I have touched on the usefulness of the Internet and Web 2.0 for advocacy before. Here is a useful guide and website that was drawn to my attention the other day: The Quick 'n Easy Guide to Online Advocacy - developed by Tactical Tech - aims to expose advocates to online services that are quick to use and easy to understand.

The guide provides descriptions of online services including social networking sites, image and video hosting services, and services that enhance an organizations web presence. The guide also offers advice on where and when to use these services. Case studies, security concerns as well as the advantages and disadvantages of various web services are discussed, with the aim of improving advocates ability to conduct online advocacy campaigns.

The internet services listed in the guide covers four main areas in which advocates operate: informing and communicating; documenting and visualising; mobilising and coordinating; and bypassing and accessing.

You may also be interested to learn about a Tactical Tech's other toolkits and guides. Please see the website (http://www.tacticaltech.org) for information. Hard-copies can be requested. Mobiles in-a-box is designed to support campaigners to use mobile telephony in their work; 'Message in-a-box' is a set of strategic guides and tools to create media for social change; the 'Security edition of NGO-in-a-box' is designed to meet the digital security and privacy needs of human rights defenders and independent media; and 'NGO in-a-box' is a collection of tools for the day-to-day running of small to medium sized NGOs. Tactical Tech has also produced a number of other guides including 'Maps for Advocacy', 'Visualising Information for Advocacy' and the 'Quick 'n' Easy Guide to Online Advocacy'. Together these toolkits and guides have been translated into seven different languages including French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and Russian.


Software for Environmental Protection

On January 16, 2009, NGO Conservation International launched Croizat, an Innovative Open-System Software to Map the Geographic Distribution of Animals and Plants

The open-source software package for the analysis of geographic distribution of animals and plants was launched by Conservation International (CI) in Brazil. This innovative technology will help the scientific community identify priority areas for environmental conservation based on geographical patterns of species.

Croizat uses a panbiogeographic approach, one of the main areas of research of biogeography, which is the study of the distribution of living creatures on our planet. Before the software was launched, there was no standard, general-purpose software for the analysis of distributional data under the panbiogeographic method, which was created by the Franco-Italian botanist Léon Croizat (1894–1982).

This picture shows the distribution of Zygodontomys rodents in northern South America represented as a track graph computed by Croizat (with satellite image background)

The idea behind panbiogeography is that biotas, or the total of animals and plants in a particular area, evolve through geography barriers. “The panbiogeographic method in which this software is based views patterns of distribution of species as a fundamental aspect of biodiversity,” says Croizat’s main developer, Mauro Cavalcanti, adding that the identification of these patterns help to single out areas that are both highly rich in species and historically important in terms of evolution and distribution of biotas.

The Croizat is based on the same analytical model of many Geographic Information Systems (GIS), but rather than concentrating on database and graphics flexibility, the Croizat is designed to perform specialist biological analyses, many of which are not available from GIS's.

For José Maria Cardoso da Silva, Conservation International’s Vice-President for South American, this technological innovation is crucial to the identification and protection of areas rich in biodiversity. “By launching the Croizat, CI intends to disseminate scientific knowledge for free and to all the researchers in the field of environmental conservation,” he said. “This is top-notch software that will contribute greatly to the planning of conservation actions.”

The program is written in Python (www.python.org) – an interactive, object-oriented programming language – coupled with the portable, multi-platform wxPython interface management library, and other free external libraries also written in Python and C/C++ (NetworkX, PIL, NumPy, Matplotlib and its Basemap module). The Croizat is platform-independent, and should run on any PC compatible with x86 architecture, under GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and MS-Windows.

Some key features:
  • An easy-to-use, interactive Graphical User Interface (GUI), with pulldown menus, dialog boxes, and other standard GUI controls, with almost identical interfaces on GNU/Linux, Microsoft Windows, and Apple Macintosh personal computers.
  • Data import in a variety of formats, including comma-delimited text and ESRI shapefiles.
  • Locality records are displayed as symbols (squares, circles, crosses, etc) on the map, with different symbols for each species.
  • Optional display of rivers and country boundaries.
  • Zoom in and out on areas of interest.
  • Maps can be saved as graphic files, or copied to the clipboard and pasted into other applications.
The Croizat can be downloaded at http://panbiog.infobio.net/croizat


ICTD Conference, Qatar, April 2009

The 3rd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD2009) will take place April 17-19, 2009 at the Carnegie Mellon Doha, Qatar http://www.ictd2009.org

ICTD spans information and communication technologies (ICT) and their role in global socio-economic development. Every sector is involved – governments, academia, small start-ups, large corporations, inter-governmental organizations, and non-profits and non-governmental organizations. In spite of the tremendous energy and resources behind these projects, scientifically sound research in this space is just beginning to emerge: What is the actual impact of ICTD projects? What novel technology is required to meet development needs? What methodologies lead to the success or failure of a project?

The goal of the ICTD conference is to provide a forum for academic researchers and scholarly practitioners working with ICT applied to development. The conference will be scientifically rigorous and multi-disciplinary – papers reporting high-quality original research are solicited. Submitted papers will be subjected to double-blind peer review, and a full proceedings will be published at the time of the conference. The conference will bring together researchers and reflective practitioners in both the social and technical sciences, with anticipated representation from anthropology, sociology, economics, political science, computer science, electrical engineering, industrial design, and the like., in addition to domain specialists in various development fields such as healthcare, agriculture, enterprise, education, governance, etc.

For the purposes of this conference, the term “ICT” will comprise computing devices (e.g., PCs, PDAs, sensor networks), technologies for voice and data connectivity, the Internet, and related technologies. Application domains include, but are not restricted to, education, agriculture, enterprise, healthcare, poverty alleviation, general communication, and governance. Papers considering novel design, new technology, project assessment, policy, impact, content, social issues around ICT for development, and so forth will be considered. Well-presented negative results from which generalizable conclusions can be drawn are also sought.

More information can be obtained from the conference website http://www.ictd2009.org


ICT and changing mindsets in Education

"The debate is no longer whether to use information and communication technologies (ICT) in education in Africa but how to do so, and how to ensure equitable access for teachers and learners, whether in urban or rural settings"

The free, online book - ICT and changing mindsets in Education - edited by Kathryn Toure, Therese Mungah Shalo Tchombe and Thierry Karsenti, draws on research in 36 schools and surveys of 66000 students and 3000 teachers. It has chapters in both English and French by 19 researchers from Africa, Europe, and North America

The book examines the role of ICT in education in Africa, and its potential to question habits, change mindsets, and deepen practice.

"This is a book about how Africans adopt and adapt ICT. It is also about how ICT shape African schools and classrooms. Why do we use ICT, or not? Do girls and boys use them in the same ways? How are teachers and students in primary and secondary schools in Africa using ICT in teaching and learning? How does the process transform relations among learners, educators and knowledge construction?"

The book is available to download as a pdf under a creative commons licence.

Visit: http://www.rocare.org/ChangingMindsets/