How technology tools can help South Asians learn new skills

  • Incorporating technology into the country’s development can be a challenge.
  • Despite this, the growth of technology around the world, especially in South Asia, can lead to tremendous progress for individuals.
  • With technology comes data, so it is necessary to establish rules that protect all parties, writes Cecil Fruman of the World Bank.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, computer-equipped community centers were a critical source of assistance to poor women in Mysore, India. Nama Mahiti Kendras – “Our Information Centers” – has gathered details on new public and private charity programs designed to help residents cope with national closures and loss of income.

Women-run information centers knew exactly what to do, based on years of experience in helping marginalized women demand state rights and services. “They were ready during the pandemic to accept and work with the demands needed to help,” said Anita Gurumurti, executive director of IT for Change, a non-profit group based in Bangalore. “We saw the ability of communities to self-organize.”

The growth of a network of such information centers helps women use digital technology to access a range of public services and become informed citizens. The centers run public radio stations, create podcasts, offer video shows, and debate gender inequality and social injustice.

South Asia is rich in human potential, and technology, if used well, can turn potential into progress.

According to our 2018 Future of Jobs report, more than half of India’s workforce will need to be retrained by 2022 to meet the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

With the world’s largest youth population and more than half the working age population, skills development is crucial for India to sustain inclusive growth and development.

In late 2018, the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Minister of Oil Development and Qualifications of India as well as the Head of Business Consulting Infosys launched a task force to close the skills gap in India.

India - The Future of Jobs 2018

India – The Future of Jobs 2018

Image: Report on the future of the Forum’s jobs for 2018

The Task Force brings together leaders from business, government, civil society and the education and training sectors to help India’s education and training systems secure the future. Learn more about our “Close the Skills Gap 2020” initiative.

This is one of the most important topics that emerged during the recent #OneSouthAsia talk, the application of technology to create human capital in South Asia. The live event reflected some of the key messages of the new report “The Convergence of the Technological Revolution and Human Capital: Potential and Implications for South Asia”. It offers dozens of actions to lay the groundwork for technologies and data that can empower the region.
Human development – through education, health and other social services – is more important than ever as South Asia responds to climate change. Expanding the supply of clean energy will require new jobs, new skills and inclusive learning. There is also a need for government programs that work more effectively with data-based decision-making and are dynamically updated by social registries.

Proper use of technology will provide access and justice for the people who need it most, so that the benefits will be filtered to vulnerable groups for the greater public good. Achieving this will be a major change for South Asia, where technology policy – to the extent that it exists – has so far not been conducive to vulnerable groups.

Technology is destiny

Technology has taken on a big role in everyday life, as has the role of banking in the international economy. According to Gurumurti, access to technology “determines the fate of people” and communities.

Technology can also change the delivery of public services.

In early 2020, Sanya Nishtar, Pakistan’s Minister for Poverty and Social Security, launched the Ehsaas National Program to support the millions of families whose incomes have been affected by COVID-19. Pakistanis used mobile phones to apply for government payments, so digital literacy and access to technology were very important. Nishtar’s team has developed digital skills programs such as learning and access in community centers to girls ’learning in school so they can teach their mothers at home.

“Data is input. Technology is a tool. They are not an end in themselves, ”Nishtar said. “They’re designed to make systems work better.” Government programs can provide better and faster social services through data-driven technologies and solutions, she said.

Opportunities in health care, education

Another speaker, Hondaker A. Mamun, founder of CMED Health, a Bangladeshi startup company that offers preventive health care, said technology could put developing countries on the path to universal health care. His company, for example, uses medical sensors connected to a smartphone to measure patients ’vital signs. Patients receive instant feedback on their health, and data is stored securely to help their physicians provide better care.

CMED Health also used artificial intelligence to monitor COVID-19 in Bangladesh. The pandemic has shown that “if we can use more technology, apply and adapt it to data-driven solutions, we can very effectively reduce the cost of health care,” Mamun said.

Technology gives governments a huge opportunity to support the human capital growth of their citizens by improving and reducing the cost of social services. But any effort to do so will raise painful issues of technology and data management if equity and inclusion goals are achieved. Data management establishes rules of transparency and accountability in how data is collected, securely stored, used and reused.

Rabbi Karmacharya, executive director of Nepal’s Open Learning Exchange (OLE), said poor governance makes it difficult to direct services and resources to the people who need them most. OLE is a non-governmental organization working to improve the digital literacy of people who are not served. It has programs in 50 schools and teaches teachers the use of technology in the classroom. OLE Nepal has also created interactive digital learning materials based on school curricula.

The role of regional cooperation

Given the complexity of applying technology to human development, South Asian countries have much to learn from each other. Here and there the seed of cooperation sprouts. We heard about opportunities for greater sharing of knowledge and experiences; for working together on digital infrastructure and open source platforms; and for cooperation in standards, governance and the regulatory framework. “One of the key areas where collaboration can help is sharing success stories and cases where successful models have been implemented,” said Karmacharya of OLE Nepal.
I hope that our conversation will open up new opportunities for cooperation in South Asia, and we look forward to some of them taking place. We will continue to have a dialogue through social networks. Share your ideas and thoughts on social media with the hashtag #OneSouthAsia.

Watch a recording of the #OneSouthAsia talk about technologies for human development or read the text summary of the event. Find out more about other events in the #OneSouthAsia series here.


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