Quake spurs youth cyber relief work

The Bangkok Post

The recent 7.3-magnitude aftershock which followed the earlier 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal has again drawn global attention. The death toll has already surpassed 8,100. Still, it is hard to imagine the scale of devastation had the earthquakes occurred 15 years ago. Several thousand more people would have died, and much of the world would still be unaware of the catastrophe.

But, cellular technology towers withstood the quake while the buildings around them crumbled. Before the mainstream media reports came out, news from individual sources had quickly penetrated social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Despite limited technological capacity, what is outstanding is how constructively it has been used during the present disaster, despite only a quarter of the population having access to the internet and 90% of them using only a 2G connection.

The media organisations which rushed to Kathmandu and its vicinity in the aftermath of the disaster are sharing the stories that they should be covering — the grim reality on the ground. However, the international media is also portraying Nepal as if everything has ended. This is doom mongering, as the quake has in fact triggered many positive instances of social behaviour.

Social media has been greatly instrumental in the relief operations taking place in the country. In particular, Nepalese youth are showing an unprecedented level of commitment. The international media to some extent has failed to share these stories of initiatives led by the younger generation.

In fact, this strata of the population was one of the first to take part in rescue efforts. Nepalese youth are making optimum use of internet technology to aid the relief work. Their Facebook walls demonstrate the amazing work that they are doing despite limited resources and skills.

In the aftermath of the disaster, technology giants such as Skype facilitated youth endeavours by announcing free calls to and from Nepal. Fortunately, those young people with a smartphone or laptop connected to the internet, reached out to temporary refugee camps, and began to help families to connect to their relatives.

In the face of calamity, people have teamed up and initiated online help desks to connect those who are far away with their family members at home. It is usually arduous to negotiate congested international communications networks in such a distressing situation. However, all you now need to do to reach your friends is to send these teams a message on Facebook or via Twitter. They then often find your family within a few minutes.

Furthermore, within hours of each of the two big tremors, Facebook introduced the safety check feature, where people could mark friends on as “Safe”. People hurried to mark their friends safe in order to reassure acquaintances at home and abroad.

In another instance, young people teamed up to use Google’s Person Finder tool to fill in the information of missing people, and those with information about someone started feeding their information into the system.

Hundreds of young people have gathered and are using their social media skills to discover where the relief is needed most, and then they pledge donations like tarpaulins, rice, or medicine. The relief material is then transported to the most hard-hit areas by volunteers, who also establish local communications and identify local youths who can serve as channels for the relief work.

The creative uses of social media have also led young people to report data regarding physical and human losses as well as to assess the availability of temporary camps and relief supplies. Youth-driven teams are crowdsourcing the information. Now, anyone with a basic cell phone can report physical damage or loss of life as well as seek help.

As the nation receives more aid from abroad, both in terms of resources and personnel, there are admittedly increased chances of financial misconduct, and the effectiveness of some of the aid work may be questioned. To address these concerns and facilitate effective aid delivery, youth groups and relief organisations are implementing a social audit of the rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts in order to make the post-disaster efforts more reliable, accountable and effective.

There is much to be learned from these independent voluntary initiatives in terms of disaster preparedness. There is a need for social immunisation by introducing strict guidelines for construction companies, as well as earthquake-preparedness classes, based on the experience of nations like Thailand.

Governments in areas of the globe vulnerable to earthquakes should have strong post-disaster relief mechanisms ready, and the youth should be equipped with basic first-aid training. Furthermore, the technology to act transparently, and democratically should be embedded in each and every step that we as societies decide to take. This use of technology and the mobilisation of youth have the potential to create resilience and keep hope alive even in adverse circumstances.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 19, 2015.

Surfing in the dark: Nepal’s need for economic reforms

[Myself, Daphne Koller and Professor Duneier]
More than a year has passed since I visited Princeton University in October 2012. I was there to participate in a panel discussion organized by the university. I was among the 40,000 students around the world who had been taking the online ‘Sociology’ course on Coursera and I had been chosen to visit the university and participate in the panel discussion because of my active participation in classes. I still vividly remember the excitement amidst the nervousness that had engulfed me at being on the stage, in-front of faculty members and students of the university presenting about how internet and online courses were helping students from developing countries like me. It was the moment I realized Thomas L. Friedman is indeed right when he says the world is getting flatter. The information communication technology revolution has indeed leveled the playing field for people across developed and developing societies. An Ivy-league education is at the finger tips of students around the world. Economic reforms undertaken by Nepal in early 1990s are also to be thanked for this wonderful opportunity I got. Nepal opened up its economy to the world and liberalized a few sectors (internet and telecommunications being one of them) during the reforms. And thanks to it, today more and more Nepalese have access to telecommunication services as well as the internet. Thanks to the increased competition among telecommunication service providers as well as internet service providers, the cost of access to internet have come down significantly and almost one-fourth of Nepalese are estimated to have access to the internet. I am sure the numbers will go up significantly in future and the day when every Nepalese will have access to internet is not far away.
However, when I look at some other aspects of lives of ordinary Nepalese, I find that the future that I dream of is nowhere as near as I would want it to be. Till date around 63 percent of households in Nepal lack access to electricity. Even the rest who have access to electricity suffer from power cuts during dry seasons lasting up to 16 hours daily. Ironically, Nepal is said to have a potential of generating more than 43000 Megawatt of electricity from hydro-power alone which would be enough to make Nepal a middle-income country through electricity exports. Power sector was among the sectors not addressed by the economic reforms of early 1990s and we still have a state-owned monopoly Nepal Electricity Authority which controls the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity in Nepal. It amazes me how Nepal Electricity Authority manages to incur huge losses despite being a monopoly and how could it hire 11000 plus employees when it has already accumulated so huge amount of liabilities. While 63 percent of our households are reeling in darkness, Nepal Electricity Authority has become a preferred avenue for corruption and nepotism for politicians as shown by the recent arrest of a number of Nepal Electricity Authority officials for their possible involvement in a multimillion-dollar transformer purchase scam.
It has been less than two decades since internet came to Nepal and yet around one fourth of the population already have access to it and the number is increasing rapidly. On the other hand, Nepal got its first hydro-power plant more than a century ago in 1911 in the form of Pharping hydro-power plant. But even after a century later, about two-thirds of Nepalese households do not have access to something as basic as electricity. It infuriates me to see that politicians haggle over who to recruit as managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority or whom to award a certain hydro-power project while general public is suffering under power crisis. I believe Nepal is in dire need of economic reforms, especially in basic utility sectors like hydro-power. There is a need to introduce and encourage competition in this sector which will eventually not only result in better delivery of services but also encourage innovations. The government should break the monopoly of Nepal Electricity Authority and make it more accountable to the consumers it is supposed to serve by opening up the sectors for private players. The government should also restructure the organization under a private-public-partnership model so that it becomes more effective and efficient without losing the sight of its objectives. Only then, we can dream of a day when we will be taking energy as granted like many of us do to internet

MOOCs for global audiences

The Year 2012 was the year of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Several leading platforms for learning, including Coursera, Udacity and EdX Online launched their services during February to April 2013. With these three startups in the technology market, education has somehow been “democratized.” The course content that was available to a handful of people is now available to the global audience.

Today, Coursera has a user base of more than 2.8 million and offers 313 courses from 62 different universities from around the globe while Udacity offers 22 courses in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and EdX offers 32 different courses from universities like Harvard and MIT. Also, EdX on its blog on March 3, 2013 announced that its system will be available open source to ease the usage of technology for education from June 1, 2013. 

These MOOCs can be very beneficial to all those who seek to learn in the true sense. A few courses do offer the certificate of completion; however, most of the courses don’t provide the credentials. The contents that are delivered through these sites are outstanding and the discussion forums and quizzes aid the learning process. In a normal course, students from more than 150 countries sign up and express their opinions over the forums, and these virtual study groups give a unique sense of learning and expand the horizon of the applicability of the contents.

Over the last 11 months, universities in the US have been heavily debating on the new trend of education. At one end of the world, technology is growing rapidly and the debate is on whether the courses should be open and free while, unfortunately, guess papers and guidebooks are all sold out in the market as exams approach.
There are countless points which could be discussed and scrutinized to see how outdated a teaching/learning mechanism we have. Even when we compare the two leading universities of the country, Tribhuvan University (TU) and Kathmandu University (KU), there is huge gap between their teaching and learning methodologies.
All universities, professors and students must feel the urgency of sensing the global educational trends. Everybody cannot afford Ivy Leagues but they can afford to sit in front of a computer and taste the way teaching/learning is done.

However, initiatives from universities alone are not capable enough for the change that we want to see. Students should also, at least, try the subjects of their interest. Since these courses are generally shorter in length, students can give it a try.

There are also constraints to this new option. With only 19% of Nepal’s population having access to Internet, language and with other barriers, it might seem difficult to attend the virtual classrooms. However, a few measures can be taken to give this new taste not only to students, colleges or universities but to all those who opt for broadening their horizon.

The government’s Youth Information Centers (YIC) and Information Centers at the VDC level could also be used as strategic learning centers for many young people. This could foster the rural learners’ accessibility to the world-class education. Furthermore, different learning centers and libraries established by several organizations in the country can be established as strategic learning centers and attract students to use their resources to learn.

Colleges and universities can arrange a learning environment for their students in their respective colleges and universities. This will provide platforms to students who don’t regularly access computer and Internet. In addition, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can also be encouraged to provide access to these learning portals at subsidized rates.

It’s never too late to start. It has not even been a year but these MOOCs are booming. You can start your own learning experience at www.coursera.org, www.udacity.com or www.edx.org today.

Republica

अनलाइन आइकन

प्रदीप बस्याल 

पाँच महिनाअघि दीपेन्द्र केसी, २३, अमेरिकाको पि्रन्स्टन युनिभर्सिटीमा थिए। त्यहाँका डिनले एउटा सामूहिक बहसको मध्यस्थता गररिहेका थिए। बहसका लागि युनिभर्सिटीका प्राध्यापक, अनलाइन अध्ययन वेबसाइट कोर्सेराडटओआरजीका सहसंस्थापक र त्यहीँ

का एक विद्यार्थीसँगै दीपेन्द्रलाई निम्त्याइएको थियो।

विश्वविद्यालयका थुप्रै प्राध्यापक, टिचिङ् एसिस्टेन्ट (अध्यापन सहयोगी) एवं विद्यार्थीहरूले त्यो बहस निकै चाख लिएर सुने, प्रश्न-प्रतिप्रश्नहरू गरे। खासमा त्यो बहस ‘अनलाइन लर्निङ्’बारे थियो । एक उत्कृष्ट विद्यार्थीका हैसियतले काठमाडौँदेखि अमेरिकाको न्युजर्सीसम्म दीपेन्द्रको यात्रा तय भएको थियो।

नेपालबाटै ‘भर्चुअल’ कक्षा लिइरहेका उनले पि्रन्स्टनका केही कक्षामा प्रत्यक्ष सहभागी हुने अवसर मात्र पाएनन्, प्राध्यापककै आग्रहमा एउटा कक्षामा आफ्नो अनुभवसमेत सुनाए।

 एक वर्षअघि त्रिचन्द्र कलेजमा समाजशास्त्रमा स्नातक दोस्रो वर्ष अध्ययन गररिहेका दीपेन्द्रलाई कसैले अनलाइन कोर्सबारे सुनाएका रहेछन् । त्यसैले जन्माएको उत्सुकता अनुरूप कोर्सेराडटओआरजीमा पि्रन्स्टन युनिभर्सिटीको ‘समाजशास्त्रको परचिय’ अध्ययन सुरु गरिहाले।

विश्वका चर्चित विश्वविद्यालयले यस्ता थुप्रै कोर्स जोकोहीले निःशुल्क पढ्न मिल्ने गरी राख्छन्। केही विश्वविद्यालयले कोर्स सफलतापूर्वक सक्नेलाई प्रमाणपत्रसमेत दिन्छन्। भन्छन्, “धेरै हदसम्म यो आफ्ना लागि चाहिने ज्ञानका लागि हुन्छ।”

त्यो कोर्समा विश्वभरबाट ४० हजार विद्यार्थीले अध्ययन गररिहेका थिए। साताको कुनै एक दिन प्राध्यापकले अध्ययन सामग्री दिन्थे भने अर्को दिन भिडियो लेक्चर। त्यसबाहेक तिनै विद्यार्थीबीच चौबीसै घन्टा विभिन्न समूह बनाएर बहस चलिरहन्थ्यो, जसलाई विश्वविद्यालयको अध्यापन सहयोगीहरूले सघाउँथे।

एक दिन प्राध्यापकले आफूसँग सीधा सम्पर्कमा रहेर छलफल गर्ने अवसर सार्वजनिक गरे। इच्छुकले सहभागिताको कारणसहित इमेल लेख्नुपथ्र्यो। त्यसअघिको सक्रियताले पनि अवसरको सुनिश्चितता निर्धारण गथ्र्यो। ६ साताका लागि डिजाइन गरएिको उक्त अध्ययनमा ‘गुगल प्लस ह्याङ्आउट’ सुविधामार्फत विश्वभरका प्राध्यापकसहित ६ जना सहभागी हुन मिल्थ्यो। र, सहभागीहरू पनि तयारी र उत्सुकताका आधारमा सातैपिच्छे फेरिन्थे। दीपेन्द्र भाग्यमानी निस्के। उनले लगातार पढ्ने मौका पाए। भन्छन्, “त्यहाँ हामीले समाजशास्त्रलाई स्थानीय परिवेशका आधारमा छलफल गथ्र्यौं।” कोर्स सकिएपछि प्राध्यापकले उनलाई उत्कृष्ट विद्यार्थीका रूपमा अमेरिका जाने अवसर प्रदान गरे।

नेपालजस्तो विकासोन्मुख मुलुक, जहाँ दिनको आधा समय बिजुली हुँदैन, इन्टरनेटमा १३ प्रतिशतको मात्र पहुँच छ, त्यसमाथि इन्टरनेटको गति निकै सुस्त। यस्तो ठाउँबाट अनलाइन कोर्स पढेर दीपेन्द्र सफलताको त्यो हदसम्म पुगेको देखेर सबै दंग परे। विश्वविद्यालयले उनलाई उपहार स्वरूप अझै पढ्ने माहोल बनोस् भनेर आइप्याड उपहार दियो। उनलाई उद्धृत गर्दै अमेरिकी सञ्चारमाध्यमहरू दी न्युयोर्क टाइम्स र सीएनएनले समेत सामग्री तयार पारे।

अहिलेसम्म उनले त्यसबाहेक ‘सोसल नेटवर्क एनलाइसिस’, ‘इकोनोमिक फर म्यानेजर्स’, ‘मोडल थिंकिङ्’जस्ता कोर्स अनलाइनमै पढेर सकेका छन्। “विश्वका शीर्ष विश्वविद्यालयमा पढ्न चाहने सबैको इच्छा पूरा नहुन सक्छ तर अब त्यहाँको शैक्षिक सामग्रीबाट भने वञ्चित भइँदैन,” दीपेन्द्र सुनाउँछन्, “त्यसरी नै पढ्नेहरूको स-साना भर्चुअल गु्रपमा सहभागी भएर समेत कलेजको जस्तै अनुभव लिन सकिन्छ।”

पि्रन्स्टनमा गएसँगै उनको चर्चा भर्चुअल विद्यार्थीमाझ चुलिएको छ। विभिन्न देशका भर्चुअल गु्रपमा उनी अतिथि वक्ताका रूपमा निम्त्याइन्छन्। भन्छन्, “सम्बन्धलाई परिभाषित गर्ने मेरो सोचाइमा अहिले परविर्तन आइसकेको छ।”

कलेजमै पनि समाजशास्त्रलाई उनी स्वयंले हेर्ने शैली बदलेका छन्। “हामी सधैँ एकोहोरो सैद्धान्तिक कुराकै पछाडि लाग्छौँ तर समाजशास्त्रलाई निकै कम स्थानीयकरण गरेर हेर्छौं,” उनी भन्छन्, “दाङको थारू बस्ती र काठमाडौँको सम्पन्न बस्तीलाई एउटै सामाजिक संरचनामा हेरेर समाजशास्त्र बुझिँदैन।”

नेपाल साप्ताहिक