Archive | India RSS feed for this section

One Laptop per Child – one big waste of time?

29 Apr

one laptop per child cartoonThe One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative was geared at children in “developing countries” when it was introduced in 2005 as the $100 Laptop. Its key design features were that it required little power and was enclosed to prevent water, sand or dirt damage also giving it a toy-like feel so not to appear too intimidating to a child who has never come across a computer before.

It has made us question what place technology has in global development efforts. Four years on, environmental historian Benjamin Cohen points out some of the ‘snags’ of the $100 laptop, which include:

  • Issues with actual cost (the $100 laptop is no longer called that, because it costs $200?)
  • Political and governmental resistance from countries to whom OLPC seeks to send the laptops. (In two cases, Nigeria and Brazil had been seeking local laptops, not imported, but other countries have presented other kinds of resistance.)
  • Businesses, such as Intel, who would like to make their own inexpensive laptop (the Intel classmate)
  • Grumblings from consumers of wealthy nations (“we want a cheap laptop too!”)
  • Education (what value are laptops when you don’t have pencils? or a teacher?)
  • Countries who have ordered in volume have experienced some measure of delays getting the devices.

 

See Cohen’s follow-up here.

But India placed an order this week for 250,000 of the OLPC machines for distribution to around 1,500 schools – a U-turn decision after the Indian government publicly rejected it OLPC as “paedagogically suspect” back in 2006, when the Education Secretary, Sudeep Banerjee, wrote:

“We cannot visualize a situation for decades when we can go beyond the pilot stage. We need classrooms and teachers more urgently than fancy tools.”

Is this a move that reinforces the notion that India is at the forefront of the globalisation process? Either way it will give the boost that OLPC needs, who has lost key members through resignation and been forced to cut staff.

Soap operas with soul

12 Mar

Development and health campaigns always face the challenge of firstly, getting their message out to target audiences, and then sustaining that message. But what if there was a method where you could educate people indirectly?

The UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) helps fund soap operas, dubbed ‘edutainment’ in developing countries in Africa and South Asia.

‘Edutainment’

Makutano Junction is a Kenyan-produced soap also shown in Uganda and Tanzania featuring a fictional village. Every episode, broadcast in English, is watched by around seven million Kenyans, of which 50% of television owners live in rural areas.

Described as “stories that touch your heart and maybe teach you something new” DFID say “hard hitting and realistic storylines” are what makes them have the success and popularity of British soaps like Eastenders and Coronation Street from even the remotest of villages.

Storylines educate on topics including contraception, challenging corruption, malaria prevention through bednets, HIV and AIDS and giving women a voice in politics.

The soaps aim to kick off local conversation about some of the most serious health and development challenges that face the Global South.

In India, the series Jasoos Vijay aims to prevent AIDS and also change attitudes on the virus and HIV. Watched by 70 million Indians, figures show the mass audiences DFID have access to. There have also been moves to go beyond English and Hindi speakers, and the show is broadcast in Hindi and seven other regional languages. Throughout the fictional storylines are small intermissions, where experts give information on HIV prevention. It is vital as 5 million Indians are infected with HIV and AIDS and the social stigma of infection remains a factor in its spreading.

Bollywood

But Bollywood churns out more films than America, that are often based in imperialist ideals, where there are echos of Ritzer’s ‘Mcdonaldisation’ paradigm a lot of glamour involved in the clothes, music, houses and storylines – some of which are not relevant to audiences besides escapism and entertainment. It does make you wonder whether Bollywood should play an increasing role in ‘edutainment’.

Makutano Junction

Makutano Junction

Soap operas on the radio reach an even bigger audience than on the television. The Story Story radio programme is set in a Nigerian Marketplace and is recorded on location. Broadcast in English on 57 federal, state and independent partner stations as well as on the BBC World Service, which has also delivered extensive radio training to professionals in Nigeria. Versions have also been produced in the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba languages.

South Africa’s TV soap Soul City regularly reaches 16m people and has been running for over 15 years. It was originally set up by NGOs in 1994, but regular test screenings by producers to ensure they are real and relevant storylines to the audiences watching, where HIV prevention messages are central to its storylines.

It has been so successful that they are introducing a transition in to Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe and encompassing radio shows, information booklets and a spin-off show for young children (Soul Buddyz). One episode which focused on domestic abuse brought in 180,000 calls to a women’s helpline while the programme was on air.

Makutano Junction offers weekly comic leaflets

Makutano Junction offers weekly comic leaflets

‘Gritty’

Matthew Krouse, arts editor of the Johannesburg Mail & Guardian, has been following Soul City since the beginning and praises it for steering away from Western television exported to South Africa, despite being sceptical at first:

“We’re saturated with crap American TV at the moment, this never-never land of beautiful people and unrealistic lives. But here we have a gritty, realistic soap with a powerful message. It’s something we can really be proud of.”

These soaps are fairly sanctimonious and preachy and don’t necessarily offer a means to put this new thinking into practice. There is the danger that the messages are so indirect that they just blend into the notion of entertainment. Viewers and listeners are also very passive, so it does echo a top-down model.

There is still the problem that these messages cannot reach those who cannot afford to purchase television sets or radios.

However entertainment is an important strategy for development and it does seem practical for regions that have an aural tradition.

Economic Orientalism: The ‘other’ dog

10 Mar

edward-said

Slumdog Millionaire scooped eight Oscars in Hollywood just over a fornight ago including Best Picture and Best Director.

But journalist Anuja Prashar, recently described in The Indian Star that the  film’s success was an indication of the “asymmetry, ambivalence and atavism” of the globalisation process.

The ‘Other’

She has gone further in proposing that the film’s success may be premised on the development of ‘Economic Orientalism’, based on Professor Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism and the Other, which explains “Western style for dominating, restructuring and having authority over the Orient” and the positioning of ‘them’ and ‘us’.

It suggests that Western nations, particularly Britain and the U.S., in times of unemployment and recession are glancing at growing economic powers such as India with a colonial undertone.

Prashar says:

The compounded result of creating the exotic ‘poor’ in Slumdog Millionaire and western leadership rhetoric, is the emergence of an ‘Economic Orientalism’, that defines western economic status as relative to that of the emerging or developing economic status. The positioning of the two, ‘them’ and ‘us’ allows for power and influence to remain centred within a national frame of reference, at the individual level and the national level.

For example, Gordon Brown asserting Britain’s suitability for global leadership of global financial regulation. This discursive approach supports a continuation of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ stance, reminiscent of western ancestral periods of history, with re-imagined notions of a national global leadership.

Global power

With an increase in media stories about real slumlife being born from the fictional Slumdog’s success, is the underbelly portrayal of the Global South damaging the chances of a country on the brink of becoming a superpower? Does it merely echo imperialist propaganda?

Phantom India Louise MalleI can say the latter definitely doesn’t apply to Boyle. Despite some criticisms and protests, the Indian government seemed more welcoming to Slumdog than four decades ago when it had imposed severe restrictions on foreign media after the BBC  broadcast Louis Malle’s documentary, Phantom India.

This time round, the effects of globalisation are more apparent and India is far more confident.

But the question, which Prashar also poses, is should the media be steering away from just painting the negative under developed picture that we have grown so accustomed to? Self censorship in order to aid nation-building – or simply ignoring what is the reality?

Slumdog Millionaire: Westertainment?

21 Feb
Jamal Malik sees the light? Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Jamal Malik sees the light? Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Composer of Slumdog Millionaire’s score, A. R. Rahman will perform at tomorrow’s Oscars for the first time. Hollywood is on India’s news agenda and Bollywood is on the world’s, but this time it’s highlighting the plight of the thousands of children living the slum life.

With ongoing debates as to whether ‘poverty porn’ has resurfaced out-dated modernisation discourse, the success of Danny Boyle’s film has been received with mixed responses of pride, joy, frustration and a post-colonial identity crisis in India.

It has taken an 11-time Oscar nominated film to put urban slums in the spotlight. Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay already looked at the country’s underbelly of street children and, amongst other awards, won the more understated Caméra d’Or at Cannes. Made in the eighties however, Mumbai was then Bombay, missing the skyscrapers which tower today’s slums present in Boyle’s panoramic shots of India.

Imperialism

New York-based journalist, Hirsh Sawhney today criticised Slumdog’s contemporary depiction of Mumbai as simplifying poverty and the West’s relationship with it. His criticism bears resemblance to those who have previously examined the shortcomings of cultural imperialism and promoting Western values as a solution to the problems of undeveloped countries.

In the Guardian’s Comment is free, he said:

“In fact, far from spreading the blame for global poverty, Boyle’s film actually suggests that the West is the solution to India’s problems. Protagonist Jamal only escapes his ceaseless cycle of squalor and crime once he makes it into the orderly, democratic world of a British call centre…The subtext is clear: things are really bad in urban India but healthy servings of western values are just what the doctor – and the Academy judges – ordered.”

Controversy

Lights Camera Action (see video here) hosted a diverse discussion panel in Houston last week on the controversies sparked by the film in India, addressing why, if the case, the Western world is obsessed with poverty porn and also begging the question – does India need an outsider (from the West) to step in before its government wakes up and smells the chai?

Bachchan criticises film for portraying India as 'third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation'

Bachchan criticises film for portraying India as 'third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation'

The economic polarity in India is portrayed the scene where Bollywood actor Amithabh Bachchan (who has also aired criticisms) by proxy, nonchalantly signs an autograph for Jamal who is literally covered head to toe in crap.

The conventional Bollywood style movie is more glitz and glamour-induced escapism than realism and the latter in this case seems to have a hit a little too close to home truths.

Western ideals

With a Jamal Malik, who goes on to speak fluent English in the latter half of the movie, takes up the chai wala job in a Western style call centre and attempts to escape the slums on a Western adopted gameshow, Indians are likely to be defensive at the thought of Western audiences criticising their nation.

Despite this we can’t forget that Boyle’s film is not a documentary. It is an entertaining love story that could almost have been shot anywhere. Films such as City of God, set in Rio have also highlighted a similar need for development. On the way however, Slumdog has reminded audiences of the slums, which can’t be swept under the rug just because it makes a prospering country look bad.