Welcome to post 2 of 3 in my mini series ‘ICT4DD in Action’! If you missed my first post, where we zoned in on Ghana, then you may be wondering what ICT4DD is. It stands for Information Communication Technology for Development and Disabilities. This time, we are going to take a close up look at Cambodia’s blind population. But first, I think we need to take a step back for a moment.
OK, so we keep talking about how ICT4D impacts people with disabilities…. But what does ICT4D even actually mean? The ICT portion, Information Communication Technology, is fairly clear (though arguably quite vague). The more controversial aspect of our favorite acronym is the 4D portion, ‘for Development’. What is development? Can we all agree on a definition of what it means for a country to be ‘developed’? There are countless definitions of development floating around and will be continued to be argued over for the foreseeable future. The current mainstream definitions are focused on a economic growth centered perspective, while others have a bottom up approach focusing on inequalities, and some theories reject the concept of development altogether.
Amartya Sen’s capability approach to development offers a way of thinking about development not as economic growth, but as individual freedom. Watch the short video below to understand the basis of his approach.
If we understand the concept of develop through this approach, then we have a clearer picture of what we mean when I refer to ‘ICT4DD’. I am trying to explore how ICTs increase the capabilities of disabled populations, and therefore aid in the societies’ development as a whole. We could spend pages exploring just this concept, which we won’t, but if you want to continue this part of the conversation leave a comment below! Now let us continue on our journey to Cambodia.
In Cambodia, there is a surprisingly high rate of people living with disabilities for a variety of reasons. Some have been disabled since they were born, and some were disabled after they were born due to road and land mine incidents, accidents, polio, stroke, and meningitis; and still more are a result of the civil war and the Khmer Rouge regime. An estimated 28,800 Cambodians become blind each year, largely due to the lack of access to healthcare.
Living in Cambodia with a disability presents multiple challenges. One of which is that a common belief in karma has led to the understanding that disabled people somehow deserve their disability. This means that disabled people face huge amounts of discrimination throughout their lives. There is also a major lack of services, rehabilitation centres, and resources throughout the country. With the majority of Cambodians living in rural areas, access to what few resources there are for disabled people is extremely limited. Lack of education for disabled children has become a critical issue, and most are excluded from any educational opportunities.
Opening in 1994, Krousar Thmey has been the only facility in Cambodia to educate children with hearing or visual impairment. Krousar Thmey is a Cambodian based foundation with international partnerships for support. Interestingly, their website seems to be only available in English or French. This indicates to me that their communications are clearly themed for a western audience with the aim of gaining financial aid.
The part of Krousar Thmey I really want us to focus on is their project ‘Providing access to quality ICT classes for students with visual disability’, which started in 2017. Krousar Thmey aims to increase and sustain the level of quality of ICT teaching within its special schools. Public schools in Cambodia begin teaching computer skills in High School, a skill now seen as essential to facilitating professional and social integration. Krousar Thmey is designing a curriculum that will provide equivalent computer knowledge in their special schools to those students graduating high schools. This means that teachers have to increase their capacity to teach ICT to students with visual impairment. This includes the ability to create “accessible documents” and “accessible webpages”, which are considered as priorities for students with visual impairment.
As with every development project, regardless of how promising, there is always a question of sustainability. Currently, Krousar Thmey manages all five of their schools, but these schools will be transferred to and managed by the Cambodian Government by 2020. The foundation has recognized that the long-term costs of running this project is too high for a non-profit organization, and sees the government as the only institution able to fulfill the mandate of the program.
This means that new teachers in special schools will be trained in the provincial teacher training centers, including computer teachers. The new computer teachers will be trained to teach children with special needs, but will not necessarily have an ICT background. It will remain to be seen if the teacher training curriculum guide created by Krousar Thmey will be enough to assist these teachers in teaching ICT skills to visually impaired children.
Linking this Cambodian project back to the concept of development we discussed above, it is fairly clear to make the connection. Remember that we are defining development as the increase in capabilities of a population. Then we talked about the high rate of visually impaired Cambodians, and how they have been excluded from educational opportunities. Lack of education, both in generally and in ICT use such as computer skills, then leads to a lack of social and professional integration. This severely limits the capabilities of Cambodia’s blind population, and understanding that this population makes up a large minority group in Cambodia means we can say that it limits Cambodia’s development.
Below is a short video about Chhem Harch, a former Krousar Thmey visually impaired student, who is currently pursuing bachelor degree in English and working as a part time English teacher. He speaks about how education and ability to use ICTs have allowed him to become successful. I think this is a perfect example of how increasing capabilities is key to development.
I would love to hear your thoughts! You can comment below, send a tweet to @invisible1bill1 or connect through our FB page.
written by RD