As I started to work on updating this site news began to come through yesterday of the tragic earthquake in Nepal which has affected so many in Kathmandu, across the whole country and in neighbouring countries. Kathmandu was my home for 8 years, and I have many friends there, who treat me as part of their family.
Naturally as the full scale of the devastation became evident I felt truly shocked and concerned to get news of my friends. As I sat at home in UK in many ways I felt powerless to do anything, but nevertheless through the power of new communications technologies I found myself engaged, and surprisingly in touch with the situation on the ground in Kathmandu.
Within a few minutes of having posted a concerned message on Facebook, I got messages back from Nepali friends in Kathmandu who told me they were alright, but on the streets and scared as they endured so many aftershocks. It was such a relief to hear from them, and interestingly it was the sons and daughters of the Nepali’s I knew best who were doing the communicating, and I was reflecting how teenagers and young people in most places these days are so at home with mobile technology, and how great it was that there were means of communication for those most affected by the crisis. Despite the broken roads, landslides and buildings reduced to rubble, the mobile phone network somehow in many places was still up and running and helping people trying to respond to the situation.
A further example of this came when I realised that the son of a close friend in UK was volunteering at a Nepali school in Lamjung, right at the epicentre of the quake. When I called the family to check all was okay they had not heard the news, and were naturally in a state of distress when I told them. They had the name of the village but no contact number for their son. With the help of the internet, I found out the school name and contact information but when they called the phone was completely dead which further increased their anxiety. Amazingly I got through to friends in Kathmandu by international phone and explained the situation. They were able to receive an email from me with details and within an hour replied with the good news that they had spoken by mobile with a lady at the school and the young volunteer was okay, and people at the school were safe. A few hours later his parents received a text message from him which confirmed his wellbeing.
The coming days and months will no doubt be very tough ones for all those living and working in Nepal, but as we consider the role of digital technology and its uses for development, I thought it was worth sharing these reflections on what happened yesterday. I cannot get the images of devastation out of my mind, but I am more convinced than ever that ICTs can play a big and positive role (locally and internationally) in both the response to disaster and in longer term development efforts needed globally to address poverty and suffering.
For nearly five years up until September 2014 I had the pleasure of working at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), near Brighton UK. In my final few months I got to work with three great colleagues – John Brownlee, Nason Bimbe and Rachel Playforth, and with the help and input of a wide range of people in UK and Africa we did a study looking at the future of knowledge sharing in a digital age focussing on the Africa and developing countries. We used foresight methodologies and were guided by Alun Rhydderch of the School of International Futures. The approach let us imagine different futures and try to figure out what needed to be done to reach 2030 in an inclusive and equitable world where we could enjoy life. The results are a policy brief and evidence report available here:
Open Education Challenge and Emerge Education are two acceleration programmes providing grants and investment in incubating start-up companies that are innovating with new products for education. The RIDE conference showcased six exciting new initiatives, which have potential to support distance and blended approaches to learning. The six initiatives were pitched on an audience who were drawn in and suitably impressed by the exciting new ideas and products being demonstrated.
The key concepts and applications represented were:
Helping you remember what you learn – an application that links research in cognitive and neurosciences with big data, and provides personally optimised revision paths – Domoscio.com
One of the great pleasures I have is tutoring a postgraduate distance learning module on ‘Managing Knowledge and Communication for Development’ for the Centre for Development and Environmental Policy (CeDEP) at SOAS. This year there are nearly ninety new students from all around the world (at least 25 different countries represented), and so much opportunity to share and learn together. I am currently preparing a major update of the course, which is also giving a fantastic opportunity to read, meet people and learn more about some great digital development projects. I hope to share more about this through my blog in the coming months!