Out-of-school children in the Eastern Sudanese state of Gedaref.

This is the first in a series of posts on designing innovative education solutions in Sudan, based on a mission that took place from September 3 to 23, and ongoing work. This series is by Panthea Lee, a consultant for UNICEF and principal at the service design firm Reboot. Some of the earlier posts are being published retroactively, partly due to the poor internet connectivity while the team was in country.

There are four million out of school children in Sudan, largely comprised of demobilized child soldiers, nomadic populations, street children, girls, and children with disabilities.

Appropriate technology interventions can be one way to bridge the digital divide and ensure that there is fair and standard access to information and opportunity.

Many ‘innovative’ education projects start with someone hearing about some project (usually a pilot) that’s going on somewhere else. If we’re not careful, projects can then easily become about procuring as many of ‘that other solution’ as possible within budget, and deploying locally. Once implemented, programme staff then realize a misfit between the imported technology and their local challenge. When it comes time to scale, they might want to try a different solution – on better suited to their context – but are tied to the original intervention, lest they want to admit failure and start over. (The World Bank recently released a report saying it has a 30 percent success rate with its ICT4D projects. This honesty is refreshing, not to mention valuable  for the relevant communities of practice – we’d all be better off if we could talk about failure openly and without fear of unfair judgement.)

UNICEF is keen to embrace a user-centered approach, but needs more relevant information about various users (children, parents, teachers, governments, and other duty bearers) to do so. While the Ministry of Education and various partners are swimming in statistics – albeit sometimes outdated – about children, there is often little qualitative data to give context and nuance to the numbers. Knowing that this is a too-common tragedy in development, the solutions we develop here with the Sudan CO will be tailor-made and will use exclusively scalable, adaptable open-source technologies. We will work with local firms and individuals; if the technical knowledge doesn’t exist, we can help build it.

I’m looking forward to the next three weeks here in Sudan, and for the coming few months as the project evolves. We welcome any feedback, ideas, or suggestions on the project — just leave a comment with your contact details, and we’ll be sure to get back.

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