I have been working to understand how e-learning might stimulate notions of self-help to foster empowerment and well-being among those living in situations of poverty in Bangladesh. Here, by e-learning, I mean learning anything with the help of electronic means (computer, mobile, television, and radio and internet technology) that might eventually help them have better control over their life and well-being. I am keen to understand how e-learning might link knowledge community with the ones living in rural areas and to understand how to rethink the way e-learning is established and implemented, transcending its limited involvement in formal education only.
Bangladesh is one of the countries that ‘officially’ demonstrated impressive performance in the areas of ICT4D. I take full responsibility of highlighting the word – officially. This does not mean that ICT4D did nothing in this country rather imply that the officially recognised performance might not be found impressive in reality, especially if sustainability is considered. Nevertheless, the country achieved success in spreading mobile network which might be contributed to the market and policy environment. This strong telecommunication network has created a basic platform for ICT4D which many commercial interventions are capitalising from. I used the word ‘capitalising’ because the major issue in availing services offered by those interventions targeting those in situations of poverty, is the cost burden. Government has provided impressive number of information centres at local levels which marginally charge for the services but still there exists non-monetary other costs and structural barriers that have been limiting access of the excluded.
From my experience of interacting with several key stakeholders, who partially represent the knowledge community of ICT4D research paradigm, and some beneficiaries, I am presenting following issues that might offer insights on the reality that might guide as a shadow structure to develop ICT4D research methodology.
1. Do concerned bodies ‘really’ want to empower the marginal rural people in a ‘sustainable’ manner? – The age old query about the politics of development.
2. Development is rarely considered in a holistic manner. Either ICT or Development gets higher priority overshadowing the other.
3. Contents are hardly designed and developed in a bottom up manner, reflecting more of what the knowledge community thinks will help the beneficiaries rather than what the beneficiaries actually need and want.
4. Interventions are designed in such a way that they fail to retain the impressive influx of initial beneficiaries. Commercialisation of those interventions is another reason for the failure due to significant cost load upon the marginal people.
5. Pace of technological change embedded in production philosophy is not in favour of the marginal people. They are not interested to accept newer technology after months.
6. Potential beneficiaries do not want to go to technology rather expect it to reach them in their own way and within their known reality.
7. Consideration of cultural variations is pivotal in achieving sustainability that in a way demands bottom up approach – in designing the device, contents as well as the nature of intervention.
8. Scopes for mix technology is rarely considered in initiatives where a particular technology is utilised. Differences in age, gender, social capital and level of education ………….
9. In addition to making the interventions need-based, there appear two options for project sustainability: either government takes the control or NGOs do it with fund support from donors. Both have positive and negative implications and given the contextual reality making a trade-off is difficult.
10. The philosophy of commercially feasible option of Brick and Click model is hardly considered in ICT4D initiatives. The ‘Brick’ part is generally overshadowed by the ‘Click’ one and like the dot com crush consequence of gold rush towards digital, ICT4D initiatives suffer from sustainability.
11. Dress code is a vital issue to get access to respondents in a way when they will speak their minds. It should be such that they will not feel either inferior or superior. If they feel either superior or inferior then they hardly participate or generally filter their words in the conversation process which most of the times present an image away from reality.
12. Respondent’s current and recent project involvements should be considered to strategically control the flow of speech so that focus is not distracted and to filter out recency effects over his/her response. However, it depends on the judgemental accuracy of the interviewer. This is important particularly for interviews with open ended questions to minimise deviations from intended areas of inquiry.
13. Interviews sometimes appear game of minds, so for some respondents while interviewing, updating them very briefly about your experience in related areas might boost them up to speak effectively; while it might back fire for some others. The decision to do this is judgemental and should be dynamically taken. It absolutely depends upon interviewer’s adaptation skill.
ICT4D is generally concerned with developing countries though my experience of a research project with project aim similar to ICT4D reveals that some of the issues mentioned about are also true for the UK as well, particularly for digital inclusion projects.
The author, Abureza M Muzareba, is a PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, UK.