in different formats, which are easily
done with a spreadsheet but tedious
and error-prone on paper, which has
been the typical mode.
Tapan Parikh, in his dissertation
work at University of Washington, developed a system called CAM6 (short for
‘camera’) that combines the comfort
and tangible nature of paper with the
power of mobile phones. Two-dimensional barcodes on the paper guide data
entry on the phone and help to manage
document flow. In addition to workflow support, CAM uses the keypad for
numeric input and provides voice feedback, both of which have been well received by semiliterate rural users. This
system is now under trial with 400 microfinance groups in India.
Educational Technology and Technology Education: Project Kané, 1 an initiative of the TechBridgeWorld group at
Carnegie Mellon University, explores
the efficacy of technological tools in
improving English literacy for children
in developing regions, with a focus on
Africa. The project started with a three-week pilot study in Ghana that tested
the feasibility and impact of using an
automated English-reading tutor to
improve the level of English literacy
among children from low-income
families in Accra. This study gave preliminary indications that the tutor had
a positive impact on the students’ performance on spelling and fluency tests.
It also identified several important factors for success, such as the need to include some local stories familiar to the
children and the necessity to narrate
the tutorial (on how to use the automated tutor) in a voice with a Ghanaian accent. Based on this initial success, the
pilot was scaled to a six-month study
that included three groups of children
from very different socioeconomic
backgrounds, and it has also been replicated in Mongu, Zambia.
The automated tutor used in these
studies was not designed for developing regions, however, and it was clear
that new educational-technology tools
with that focus were needed. This goal
is being pursued through a new partnership between TechBridgeWorld
researchers and alumni of the course
in robotics and artificial intelligence—
Ghana’s first—taught at Ashesi University College.
Ayorkor Mills-Tettey, a doctoral
candidate in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University and a native of Ghana,
had spearheaded a collaborative project between TechBridgeWorld and
Ashesi University College to design
and teach that course5 at Ashesi, a private, accredited, nonsectarian college
dedicated to training a new generation
of ethical and entrepreneurial leaders
in Africa. The collaboration between
the two universities led to a summer
course designed and taught with careful consideration of the local context,
infrastructure, and resources.
Several students who took this
course have now graduated and have
followed different employment paths;
some headed to industry (including a
startup company for developing mobile applications) and others to graduate school. Empowered with a strong
technology education, some of these
students are now collaborating with
TechBridgeWorld researchers to design, implement, and field-test educational technology tools to improve
literacy in their homeland.
Looking to the future
We believe that technology, along with
good governance and macroeconomics, represents the path forward for the
majority of the world’s people. Consider that in 1970, South Korean and African incomes were similar; but the rapid relative rise of South Korea shows
what is possible, due in large part to
technology. We believe that proactive
research and development of ICTs appropriate for developing regions can
lead to similar growth and prosperity
over time and to an improved quality
of life in the immediate future.
Today we have lots of examples and
anecdotes about high impact from
ICTD in developing regions, but the
field remains ad hoc and largely without the benefit of the innovative thinking that more computer scientists
would bring to bear. The situation
could change substantially, however.
The core costs of computing and communication have dropped to a point
that enables CS to affect everyone,
especially when combined with the
flexibility inherent in software that
enables low-cost customization for a
wide variety of contexts. This combination makes CS uniquely positioned
among all disciplines to have imme-
diate and large-scale impact. But the
role of CS in development is essentially a community decision, involving
whether we value this work or not. For
example, will ICTD be a viable path to
a tenure-track CS faculty position?
We can say that although the challenges are great, ICTD is both intellectually rewarding and very attractive to
students at all levels. With several recent reports citing the dwindling numbers of students interested in studying
CS, perhaps ICTD is one answer. It
may help motivate a new generation of
computer scientists to contribute their
knowledge, talents, and energies toward solving some of the world’s most
11. Dias, m.b., mills-tettey, g.a., and mertz, J. the
techbridge World initiative: broadening perspectives
in computing technology, education, and research.
in Proceedings of the International Symposium on
Women and ICTD: Creating Global Transformation.
acm Press, ny (June 2005).
2. kalra, n., Lauwers, t., Dewey, D., stepleton, t., and
Dias, m.b. iterative design of a braille writing tutor
to combat illiteracy. in Proceedings of the 2nd IEEE/
ACM International Conference on Information and
Communication Technologies and Development (Dec.
3. kam, m., ramachandran, D., Devanathan, V.,
tewari, a., and canny, J. Localized iterative design
for language learning in underdeveloped regions:
the Pace framework. in Proceedings of the ACM
Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
(san Jose, ca, apr. 28–may 3, 2007).
4. kim, s.J. information technology and its impact
on economic growth and productivity in korea.
International Economic Journal 17, 3 (oct. 2003),
55. mills-tettey, g.a., Dias, m.b., browning, b., and
amanquah, n. teaching technical creativity through
robotics: a case study in ghana. in Proceedings
of the 2nd AI in ICT for Development Workshop,
20th International Joint Conference on Artificial
Intelligence (Jan. 2007).
66. Parikh, t.s., Javid, P., sasikumar, k., ghosh, k., and
toyama, k. mobile phones and paper documents:
evaluating a new approach for capturing microfinance
data in rural india. in Proceedings of the ACM
Conference on Computer-Human Interaction (apr.
24–27, 2006, montreal, canada).
7. surana, s., Patra, r., nedevschi, s., and brewer, e.
Deploying a rural wireless telemedicine system:
experiences in sustainability. IEEE Computer 41, 6
(June 2008), 48–56.
8. toyama, k. and Dias, m.b., guest editors. IEEE
Computer Magazine, Special Edition on Information
Communication Technology for Development (June
M. Bernadine Dias ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant
research professor at the robotics institute of carnegie
mellon university, Pittsburgh, Pa. she founded and directs
the techbridge World group ( www.techbridgeworld.org),
which pursues technology research relevant to, and in
partnership with, underserved communities throughout
Eric Brewer ( email@example.com) is a professor
in the computer science division at the university of
california, berkeley. he founded the federal search
foundation, which built firstgov (now usa.gov), the
portal for the u.s. government, and he was the founder
and chief scientist of the inktomi corporation, now part
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