Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ethiopia: Tablet as teacher: Poor Ethiopian kids learn ABCs - Technology - MiamiHerald.com

Tablet as teacher: Poor Ethiopian kids learn ABCs




ASSOCIATED PRESS

The kids in this volcano-rim village wear filthy, ragged clothes. They sleep beside cows and sheep in huts made of sticks and mud. They don't go to school. Yet they all can chant the English alphabet, and some can spell words.
The key to their success: 20 tablet computers dropped off in their Ethiopian village in February by a group called One Laptop Per Child.
The goal is to find out whether children using today's new technology can teach themselves to read in places where no schools or teachers exist. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers analyzing the project data say they're already startled.
"What I think has already happened is that the kids have already learned more than they would have in one year of kindergarten," said Matt Keller, who runs the Ethiopia program.
The fastest learner is 8-year-old Kelbesa Negusse, the first to turn on one of the Motorola Xoom tablets last February. Its camera was disabled to save memory, yet within weeks Kelbesa had figured out the tablet's workings and made the camera work.
He proclaimed himself a lion, a marker of accomplishment in Ethiopia.
On a recent sunny weekday, nine months into the project, the kids sat in a dark hut with a hay floor. At 3,380 meters (11,000) feet above sea level, the air at night here is chilly, and the youngsters coughed and wiped runny noses. Many were barefoot. But they all eagerly tapped and swiped away on their tablets.
The apps encouraged them to click on colors - green, red, yellow. "Awesome," one app said aloud. Kelbesa rearranged the letters HSROE into one of the many English animal names he knows. Then he spelled words on his own, tracing the English letters into his tablet in a thick red line.
"He just spelled the word 'bird'!" exclaimed Keller. "Seven months ago he didn't know any English. That's unbelievable. That's a quantum leap forward."
"If we prove that kids can teach themselves how to read, and then read to learn, then the world is going to look at technology as a way to change the world's poorest and most remote kids," he said.
"We will have proven you can actually reach these kids and change the way that they think and look at the world. And this is the promise that this technology holds."
Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University professor, studies the origins of reading and language learning and is a consultant to the One Laptop project. She was an early critic of the experiment in Ethiopia but was amazed by the disabled-camera incident.
"It's crazy. I can't do that. I couldn't hack into anything," she said. "But they learned. And the learning that's gone on, that's very impressive to me, the critic, because I did not assume they would gravitate toward the more literacy-oriented apps that they have."
Wenchi's 60 families grow potatoes and produce honey. None of the adults can read. They broadly support the laptop project and express amazement their children were lucky enough to be chosen.
"I think if you gave them food and water they would never leave the computer room," said Teka Kumula, who charges the tablets from a solar station built by One Laptop. "They would spend day and night here."
Kumula Misgana, 70, walked into the hut that One Laptop built to watch the kids. Three of them had started a hay fight. "I'm fascinated by the technology," Misgana said. "There are pictures of animals I didn't even know existed."
He added: "We are a bit jealous. Everyone would love this opportunity, but we are happy for the kids."
Kelbesa, the boy lion, said: "I prefer the computer over my friends because I learn things with the computer." Asked what English words he knows, he rattled off a barnyard: "Dog, donkey, horse, sheep, cow, pig, cat."
Kelbesa, one of four children, is being raised by his widowed mother, Abelbech Wagari, who dreams the tablet is his gateway to higher education.
While the adults appeared grateful for the One Laptop opportunity, they wished the village had a teacher.
Keller said that Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT pioneer in computer science who founded One Laptop, is designing a program for the 100 million children worldwide who don't get to attend school. Wolf said Negroponte wants to tap into children's "very extraordinary capacity to teach themselves," though she said she has no desire to see teachers replaced.
The goal of the project is to get kids to a stage called "deep reading," where they can read to learn. It won't be in Amharic, Ethiopia's first language, but English, which is widely seen as the ticket to higher paying jobs.
Keller and Wolf say they are only at the beginning of understanding the significance of how fast the kids of Wenchi have mastered the English ABCs. The experiment will be replicated in other villages in other countries, using more targeted apps.
One might wonder whether the children of Wenchi need good nutrition and warm clothes rather than a second language and no teacher - a question Wolf said has given her some sleepless nights.
She thinks she has arrived at an answer.
In remote regions of Africa and elsewhere, she said, "the mother who has one year of literacy has a far better chance to make sure her child can live to five years of age. They are savvier when it comes to medicine, to basic health, to economic development."
"So at 3 a.m. when I'm thinking, if I can do one thing ... using my particular knowledge, which is in reading and brain development and thinking - this is my shot; this is my contribution to the nutrition and health of a child."             

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/24/v-fullstory/3155350/tablet-as-teacher-poor-ethiopian.html#storylink=cpy

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Local NGOs have a key role to play in a post-MDGs environment | Global Development Professionals Network | Guardian Professional

Local NGOs have a key role to play in a post-MDGs environment

Sponsored feature
STARS Foundation roundtable participants discuss the role and relevance of local NGOs in development – from embracing individual donors with less restrictions to accessing remote areas
Aisda worker campaigning in Ethopia
An Aisda health worker campaigns to stop female genital mutilation practice during a busy market day in Delafagi in the Afar region of eastern Ethopia. Photograph: Kristian Buus
The Guardian recently hosted a STARS Foundation roundtable event on post-MDGs environment and the role of local NGOs in the development process. It brought together some of this year's STARS Foundation Impact Award winners to discuss the issues small and local NGOs face, and the relevance of MDGs to their work. Donors and foundations who were eager to connect with such NGOs, collectively covering all eight MDGs, also participated in the discussion.
Fadekemi Akinfaderin-Agarau, director of Education as a Vaccine, an organisation working with children and teenagers in Nigeria, said: "The reality with the MDGs is that the connections between them don't seem so apparent on paper. But when you work with people and children on the ground, you start to make those connections. So there's no way you can work in HIV which is MDG6 without working on MDG5 [maternal health], for example."
Some felt the MDGs were too narrow in focus. Masresha Andarge, executive director of Action for Integrated Sustainable Development Association (Aisda) that works with nomadic communities in remote regions of Ethiopia, said if the 2015 MDGs fail, it would be because of the areas that were still unreached and untouched."MDGs will never reach those areas, there are no reports, no one goes there ... the MDGs are not as simple as we see them on paper and on TV."
Chairing the discussion, Liz Ford, Guardian global development deputy editor, asked how such NGOs accessed finance. Maria Neophytou, head of communications for donor organisation, Ark, said that "strengthening the capacity of local organisations" is key to her organisation. Rachel Harrington, associate director of the Coutts Institute, said her organisation actively sought to invest in local NGOs.
While this was welcome news, Saima Rashid, training director ofDevelopments in Literacy, providing schooling and teacher training in poor areas of Pakistan, said that 50% of her funding comes from private donors who let the charity decide how to use it. "Of course, unrestricted doesn't mean we don't audit it – we have an external auditor. But we prefer such donations to the other 40-50% that comes from donors ... where it is restricted and doesn't cover all the costs." Rashid also said that there were barriers to adopting a social enterprise model, making profits from training in more affluent urban areas turned-off local donors.
STARS Foundation chief executive Muna Wehbe said their research of about 600 previous applicants found that 92% believed funders should be more willing to take risks and fund innovative projects.
Sister Maria Victoria Sta. Ana, executive director of the Laura Vicuña Foundation, working with street children to stop child exploitation in the Philippines, also said that three quarters of her funding comes from individual donors because it was unrestricted. "We are really able to do more, to innovate programmes without being asked can you do this or do that. Our foundation is made of a very small core staff of around 15 people, but we're able to reach 3,000 children a year in far-flung areas."
Aisda went for two years without securing any funding at all in Ethiopia, said Andarge. Donor-auditors demanded company accounts before considering an investment, but Aisda needed investment in order to have any company accounts. Andarge eventually persuaded a Norwegian development fund to see their work and received seed funding of $15,000 (£9,215) for three months. After the trial period, Aisda secured $300,000 (£184,385) for three years.
Teresa Verdial de Araújo, chief executive of Fundasaun Alola, a small NGO from Timor-Leste working in maternal and infant health, talked about short-termism of international funders. "We hope to start with projects of at least two to three years because that is good for us to set-it up, achieve an impact, and measure the impact. Otherwise it's one year or shorter, and also [they] keep asking for feedback reports – the duration of projects is key."
This, said Robin D'Alessandro, chief executive of the Vitol Charitable Foundation, can be a problem for foundations too.
"We don't want any organisation to get dependent on us ... we're often the extra 25% at the end of a DfID project, but at the end of four years they move on and sometimes there's no one left to fund those great projects."
Yasser Daoud, director of Development Action Without Borders (Naba'a), working primarily with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, believed that donations are too often tied to a political agenda. "In our region this is the case. If you are related to this party you will have funds from this group; if you are related to another party you get funds from a totally different donor. And in the middle you have the UN agencies ... with bureaucracy, high admin costs and high salaries."
Daoud noted an Italian NGO partner with extortionately high expatriate costs. "You can't go out to visit people sleeping in the mud and arrive in a 4x4. You can't go and visit injured people with three or four security guards following you. There is something wrong."
Worse still, said Wehbe, a lot of the small organisations that STARS Foundation supports find their staff are poached by the very international agencies purporting to help them. This, said Akinfaderin-Agarau, was her "number one headache" in Nigeria. She named several major international NGOs who have taken her staff in the past year alone. "We can't compete in terms of salaries. And then at the end of the year when people assess you they say 'oh you have a high staff turnover'! ... It is ridiculous – you can't say you're bringing international volunteers to support the capacity of my staff when you are taking my staff."
However, David Gold, chief executive of Prospectus, warned that it can be a dangerous line of argument to pursue given a growing public scepticism about international aid money. "What might not happen is that the money would get redirected to you, instead it might be stopped altogether."
However Farah Jirdeh, director of the Pharo Foundation, welcomed a potential backlash from western taxpayers. "I really think that the damage international NGOs do locally is far reaching; the payments they make inflate the markets, create false economies, they wield amazing influence with governments and government entities ... it is far more damaging than the good that comes out. I hope DfID's funds are really slashed ... Local civil societies are hampered and never will develop if this [aid money] continues."
If that were to happen, asked Ford, would that open the door to private sector involvement and with it labour rights issues, profiteering, and less democratic responsibility? D'Alessandro argued that the private sector increasingly needs to spend CSR funds, and NGOs need funds, so such partnerships are imperative.
Jirdeh and Verdial de Araújo, felt that the next MDGs were already decided, a fait accompli. However, Ark's Neophytou said: "While there are a lot of issues already on the table, I think there's a lot of live issues where civil society has to weigh in, you can't give up ... it is an inter-governmental process and it will go back to the countries to negotiate that framework. That's when there's an opportunity to have a real influence."
To round up the discussion, Ford asked everyone to say in a single sentence what they hoped to see emerge post-2015. The room seemed agreed: "Go local and build partnerships."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ethiopia: Stronger America Needs Stronger Ethiopia- allAfrica.com:

OPINION
On his return voyage from the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the then United States president, Franklin Roosevelt, held a successive one hour port-side chat with three kings. Aboard the heavy cruiser, USS Quincy, docked off the Great Bitter Lake of the Egyptian coast, the President discussed with King Farouk of Egypt, King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, and the king of kings, Emperor Haileselassie of Ethiopia. This was the first face to face encounter between the leaders of Ethiopia and the United States.
Subsequently, the Emperor was able to meet with four US presidents in his six official visits to the United States, making him the leader with the highest number of official visits to Washington in the 20th century.
Of course, the Ethio-American relation goes way back to the time of Emperor Menelik and President Theodore Roosevelt. The United States was one of the pioneer countries to send a mission to Addis Abeba, after the victory of Adwa. Since then, the relationship between the two countries has seen highs and lows.
From the military communication post of Kagnew Station (Radio Marina) and the massive military and economic aid to Ethiopia (Ethiopia used to receive more than 80pc of all military aid to Africa, even though it was less than 0.5pc from the world's share) to Point Four Program and the coming of peace corps, the emperor era was the high point for relations between the two countries.
The picture completely changed after the emergence of the Dergue. Its intimacy with the eastern bloc, accompanied by the United State's support to the then Somalian government, forced relations between the two countries to hit rock bottom.
After 17 years of strained relations, however, the two countries resumed a rather wary relationship once the EPRDF took power in 1991. After passing through some difficult times, most notably during the Ethio-Eritrea war and the post-election crisis of 2005, the relationship now seems to be standing on solid ground. This is further strengthened by Ethiopia's stabilising role in the chaotic Horn of Africa.
Besides military and diplomatic assistance,Ethiopia receives billions of dollars in development aid from the people of the US. Africom, the new US mission in Africa, is using Ethiopian military facilities, like the drone base at Arbaminch, for its missions in the horn and beyond. Acceleration is on the side of the relationship.
But there is still room for further improvement, not only in scale but also in scope and focus. For this to happen, though, the Obama Administration must take into consideration the changing dynamics of Ethiopia and the region at large.
Administrations look for a strong, reliable and consistent state that will protect their investment, as a prerequisite, before forging a long-term relationship with another country. And the United States Department of State has a lot of bad experiences on this particular subject.
Yet, it is definitely not the case for Ethiopia, at least this time around.Ethiopia has started to enjoy political maturity. And this was manifested in the peaceful power transition, albeit intra-party, that it was able to achieve for the first time in its modern history. This achievement is even greater, when seen in the backdrop of the instability-ridden Horn of Africa.
Surely,Ethiopia still has some length to go before becoming a functioning democracy. But the country is moving forward. It has finally finished defining itself. And its state formation process, a concept that is still illusive for most African nations, seems coming to a close.
Ethiopia has one of the most democratic and secular constitutions in the world. And the country has established a strong and efficient government, at least by African standards, and enjoys policy freedom that is unthinkable in most developing nations. And it has a clear vision of where it wants to go.
Ethiopia is home to one of the largest black population in the world, second only next to Nigeria, and it holds the second biggest market in the continent. Its economy, which is one of the fastest growing in the world, will be one of the four biggest in the continent, in a decade or so.
The country is also claiming its rightful place in African politics, asserting itself as a force to be reckoned with in the region and beyond. All this will make Ethiopia an ideal candidate for partnership in this multi-polar world. And the United States can take advantage and further strengthen its relation with this 'roaring lion of Africa'.
Therefore,Ethiopia's relation with the US should look beyond short-term benefits or missions. It rather ought to capitalise on the shared ideals and values and mutual long-term interests in the region and beyond. And this truth upholds whatever government takes the power in Ethiopia because there could not be inherent clashes between the values and interests of the people of the two countries.
And now is the right time for the Obama Administration to take this strong relation to the next level and give Ethiopia its proper place in the United States foreign policy equation.
In 1971, the Nixon administration was courteous enough to inform Emperor Haileselassie, in advance, about its decision to recognise the Peoples Republic of China; this clearly shows the place Ethiopia used to hold in the foreign policy matrix of the United States.
In the recent past, however, the United States has left Ethiopia out of the loop. The Obama Administration should start to take Ethiopia's interest into consideration when getting involved in the Middle East, especially with Egypt. After all,America's short-sighted strategies are the main reasons behind the unbalanced military and diplomatic capabilities of the upper and lower basins of the Nile River.
The US should no more take Ethiopia for granted. And this should be corrected through different balancing acts as a strong and stable Ethiopia is in the interest of the United States.
The US government should help the people of Ethiopia achieve their economic aspirations and enjoy the fruits of prosperity and live in dignity. It should give its political and diplomatic assistance for the equitable use of the Nile River.
It also should work on strengthening economic ties between the two countries. As Ethiopia's economy is on the rise, there is and will be enough space for US companies to take part in it. In addition to development aid, technological assistance, military and civil service, should be scaled-up.
Last but not least, the United States government should work with the people and government of Ethiopia for the realisation of a more democratic society. A state visit by President Obama will have a tremendous effect on all of these.
It is certain that a stable and economically prosperous Ethiopia is very much in the interest of the US. And that is why the Obama Administration should rethink its relation with Ethiopia and upgrade its investment and engagement, and assist with 'the peaceful rise of 'Ethiopia so that the country realises its full potential. Only then could the United States have a reliable and strong regional ally to rely on for years to come.
Mikias Merhatsidk Is an Economist By Training

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ethiopians and Tibetans thrive in thin air using different genes - Sci/Tech - DNA

Researchers claim to have pinpointed genetic changes that allow some Ethiopians to live and work more than a mile and a half above sea level without getting altitude sickness.
According to the researchers, the specific genes differ from those reported previously for high-altitude Tibetans, even though both groups cope with low-oxygen in similar physiological ways
If confirmed, the results may help scientists understand why some people are more vulnerable to low blood oxygen levels caused by factors other than altitude — such as asthma, sleep apnea, heart problems or anemia — and point to new ways to treat them, the researchers say.
Lower air pressure at high altitude means fewer oxygen molecules for every breath.
“At 4000 meters, every lungful of air only has 60 percent of the oxygen molecules that people at sea level have,” Cynthia Beall, co-author from Case Western Reserve University, said.
To mop up scarce oxygen from thin air, travellers to high altitude compensate by making more haemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying component of human blood.
But high haemoglobin comes with a cost. Over the long term, excessive haemoglobin can increase the risk of blood clots, stroke, and chronic mountain sickness, a disease characterized by thick and viscous blood.
“Altitude affects your thinking, your breathing, and your ability to sleep. But high-altitude natives don’t have these problems,” Beall said.
“They don’t wheeze like we do. Their thinking is fine. They sleep fine. They don’t complain of headaches. They’re able to live a healthy life, and they do it completely comfortably,” she said.
Research over the last four decades has revealed that people born and raised in mountainous regions cope with altitude in different ways. Native highlanders in Tibet and some in Ethiopia, for example, are able to maintain relatively low blood haemoglobin concentrations at high altitude compared to their counterparts in the Andes, a trait that makes them less susceptible to chronic mountain sickness.
Co-authors Anna Di Rienzo and Gorka Alkorta-Aranburu of the University of Chicago said that Tibetans and some Ethiopians have both evolved a dampened response to low oxygen.
The researchers wanted to pinpoint the genetic changes that enable Ethiopians to thrive in thin air, and to see if the same genes play a role for Ethiopians as found in recent studies for Tibetans.
To find out, they analyzed the genomes of nearly 260 Ethiopian villagers belonging to two ethnic groups: the Oromo, who began settling at high altitude in the Bale Mountains of southeast Ethiopia about 500 years ago, and the Amhara, who have lived at high altitude in the Semien Mountains of northwest Ethiopia for at least 5,000 years.
Research by Beall and colleagues in the early 2000s revealed that Oromo cope with thin air in much the same way that lowlanders visiting high altitude do — by making more haemoglobin.
In contrast, Amhara highlanders — whose ancestors have inhabited mountainous regions for thousands of years longer than the Omoro — are able to maintain blood haemoglobin levels that are roughly 10 percent lower than Omoro living at the same altitude.
In a study, a team led by Beall, Di Rienzo and Alkorta-Aranburu analyzed both groups' DNA, which was extracted from blood and saliva samples donated by Amhara and Omoro villagers born and raised at high (3700-4000m) and low (1200-1560m) elevations.
Using a statistical technique called a genome-wide association study, the researchers scanned the genomes of highland and lowland Ethiopians from both ethnic groups in search of variants associated with haemoglobin levels in the blood.
When they scanned the villagers’ DNA, the researchers found a genetic variant associated with low haemoglobin levels in the Amhara.
This variant was located in a different region of the genome than those previously found to be associated with low haemoglobin in Tibetans. In other words, the physiological coping mechanisms shared by Amhara and Tibetans in response to life at high altitude — dampened haemoglobin levels — are due to different underlying genes.
It is still unclear whether the first settlers of high altitude regions in Ethiopia and Tibet carried different genetic variants with them when they arrived, or whether different mutations occurred in these populations after they got there. But it’s clear that each group followed a different evolutionary pathway.
“They have a similar physiologic solution, but that doesn't necessarily amount to a similar genetic solution,” Di Rienzo said.
For the Omoro — who are relative newcomers to high altitude — the researchers also found differences between highlanders and lowlanders in DNA methylation, a chemical process that causes changes in gene activity, but doesn’t necessarily alter the genetic code.
While the differences aren’t linked to haemoglobin levels, the results suggest that such changes may play a role in the early stages of high altitude adaptation, the researchers say.
The study has been published online issue in the journal PLoS Genetics.

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Prof. Muse Tegegne has lectured sociology Change &  Liberation  in Europe, Africa and Americas. He has obtained  Doctorat es Science from the University of Geneva.   A PhD in Developmental Studies & ND in Natural Therapies.  He wrote on the  problematic of  the Horn of  Africa extensively. He Speaks Amharic, Tigergna, Hebrew, English, French. He has a good comprehension of Arabic, Spanish and Italian.