Why Apps Can’t Transform Society

The nice folk at ICTworks are plugging WikiReader again & are asking:
“Is WikiReader the Killer App that will transform the developing world?”.

Well, the answer is a resounding “No”. WikiReader is a neat gadget but like any other gadget already invented, or yet-to-come, we can be 100% certain that it is not going to “transform the developing world”.

Development is not a commodity that some foreign dudes can manufacture by burning a bunch of information onto a read-only device.

Transforming education (or agriculture, or whole societies) is not susceptible to a technical fix; you can’t just ship the latest gadget, stand back, and wait for the magic to happen.

Where genuine transformation has been achieved it has generally required a long-term commitment to sustain the training and professional development of teachers (or agricultural extension workers, or community activists).

Research on other technology-push programmes in ICT for Education supports the idea that realising the potential benefits of educational technology requires refocusing on the agency of the teachers and learners by investing in teacher training, learning materials, and curriculum support.

There is no silver bullet that can overcome centuries of structural underdevelopment – not in education and not in society more widely.

Radical social transformation necessarily involves overcoming resistance from those with vested interests in preserving the status quo. Previous experience tells us that overcoming entrenched opposition requires that women and men come together to work as agents of change, winning over new recruits to the cause, and build a constituency for change that becomes irresistible.

In pursuit of transformation, educators and social activists will always make best use of whatever information and communication technologies are accessible to them. Educators will use chalk boards or computers as available; agricultural extension workers will draw diagrams in the dirt or use mobile phones as appropriate; community activists will use pamphlets and megaphones alongside Twitter and Facebook.

As previously posted whenever people combine together, intent on social change, ICT can help: be it in advocacy work to build a constituency for change, or to coordinate supporters in direct action as part of a wider struggle.

The point however is that the agency in transformational change is never technological; in social change the agent is always human.

As the @ict4djester, Kentaro Toyamo says, without human action technology is just a ‘hunk of junk’, yet when applied purposefully by people seeking social change technology will amplify existing human capacity and intent.

The WikiReader is not a bad thing but creating the illusion that gadgets can transform the world is. To suggest that “killer apps” can “transform the developing world” is to offer false hope, and to divert attention from the real need, which is to focus on local people’s needs, agency, and capacity.

Local people, not foreign gadgets, are the agents of transformative change. Technical artifacts cannot create history; only people who are politically conscious and acting in unison have that potential.

Social change will not come in a box with batteries and instructions.

Teacher Training in Chikanta, Zambia



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