Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tanzania's Not Tesla

I may just be grumpy.  Or old and kvetchy.  Or a "nasty woman."  But this recent piece from Forbes really chaps my ass.

I mean, okay, kudos, right idea with corporate responsibility, and alms for the poor, and all that, you model-dating bazillionaire, Mr. Musk.

But think for a second about the infrastructure required to put your Xbox or neuro-turbo what-what into play in a country like TZ?

Hello?  Have you ever even come here on safari??  There is no electricity in most schools.  Certainly no internet.  Not enough classrooms.  Not enough trained teaching staff.  Not enough learning materials, i.e. PENCILS.  Not enough teaching materials, i.e. CHALK.  Too many students.  Unengaged parents.  Uninterested school administrators.  The grossest "bathrooms" you will ever see.

I just feel like before proclaiming yourself the "Education Revolutionizer," you might want to come and see what's going on over here for yourself.



Possibly Elon Musk's Biggest Idea Yet - Revolutionizing Education 

An estimated 250 million children around the world cannot read, write, or demonstrate basic arithmetic skills.  UNESCO estimates that the world will need 1.6 million more teachers globally, a number set to double by 2030.  Enter Elon Musk.

Musk is famous for being the face of such organizations as Tesla and SpaceX.  He is also the co-chairman of the AI research company OpenAI and the CEO of neurotechnology company Neuralink, among other companies that he is involved with.  More recently, he provided $15 million to the Global Learning XPRIZE.  The goal is to develop methods to teach the 250 million children who do not have access to primary or secondary education the means to teach themselves to read, write, and do math within 15 months.

Today, XPRIZE announced the five finalists advancing in the Global Learning XPRIZE and awarded each finalist a $1M milestone prize.  XPRIZE awarded each finalist for the open source, cutting-edge learning software they have developed for the competition.  The five finalist teams will begin field testing their education technology solutions this November in Tanzania.

"Universal access to education is a major priority for XPRIZE, and we are proud to celebrate the change-making teams making impressive strides to ensure every single child has the opportunity to take learning into her own hands," said Marcus Shingles, CEO of XPRIZE Foundation.  "The leading solutions born from this competition could provide the key to unlocking literacy for children most in need, giving them access to an education they otherwise wouldn’t have."

An independent committee of 11 judges chose five finalist teams from 198 companies who applied for the award:
  • CCI (New York, United States) is developing structured and sequential instructional programs, in addition to a platform seeking to enable non-coders to develop engaging learning content in any language or subject area.
  • Chimple (Bangalore, India) is developing a learning platform aimed at enabling children to learn reading, writing and mathematics on a tablet through more than 60 explorative games and 70 different stories.
  • Kitkit School (Berkeley, United States) is developing a learning program with a game-based core and flexible learning architecture aimed at helping children independently learn, irrespective of their knowledge, skill, and environment.
  • onebillion (UK/Malawi/Tanzania) is merging numeracy content with new literacy material to offer directed learning and creative activities alongside continuous monitoring to respond to different children's needs.
  • RoboTutor (Pittsburgh, United States) is leveraging Carnegie Mellon's research in reading and math tutors, speech recognition and synthesis, machine learning, educational data mining, cognitive psychology, and human-computer interaction.
"Our five finalists are developing the most promising software solutions to enable children to teach themselves basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, as determined by our panel of expert judges," said Matt Keller, senior director of the Global Learning XPRIZE.  "As we move to the final field testing phase, we are one step closer to scaling transformative technology solutions that foster child-driven learning and provide a world-class education for all."

To field-test the five finalists' solutions, the Global Learning XPRIZE partnered with UNESCO, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Government of Tanzania.  Approximately 4,000 children in 150 villages in the Tanga region of Tanzania will use 8,000 Pixel C tablets donated by Google to test the top software solutions for approximately 15 months.

At the end of the field testing phase, the team whose solution enables the greatest proficiency gains in reading, writing, and arithmetic will receive the Grand Prize of $10 million, to be announced in April 2019.  Each of the five finalists will be required to open source both their code and their content which will be free and available for anyone to build on.  By ensuring each finalists' solutions are open source, XPRIZE also aims to proliferate solutions worldwide at the intersection of technology and learning.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Check out the recent article from The Citizen reprinted below for a story that will give you the warm and fuzzies.

It goes without saying that these girls are pretty amazeballs, pursuing their dreams of becoming teachers, even in the face of true adversity.

But, as a sister myself, I have to give them major props for doing it TOGETHER, and for not killing each other on the way!  There is no fight in the world like a fight between two sisters!! 

Optimism High As Tanzania's Conjoined Twins Join University

Iringa — It was a dream come true for the conjoined twins Maria and Consolata as they made their first day at university Wednesday to pursue their goal of becoming teachers.

They were grateful to their lecturers for the warm welcome accorded to them in addition to the suitable learning and living environment that has been prepared for them at Ruaha Catholic University (Rucu).

They arrived at the institution ahead of other students to try and cope with the environment and get ready for their academic path ahead of them.  They start their computer lessons today.

The twins said it was all thanks to Consolata Missionaries that they have reached this stage of their life.  The missionaries brought them up and encouraged them as they pursued their elementary education.

The girls, residents of Iringa, were thankful to their sponsors who have offered to cover their education expenses.

A nun at Consolata Missionaries, Sr. Jane Lugi, said the twins' arrival at university before all other students would enable them to prepare ahead so as to cope with the others.

"We cared for these twins way back when they were still in Kilolo District.  I'm sure they will live a normal life here at university.  Sisters of Theresia have prepared a good home for them.  We are satisfied with what has been put in place for them and wish them all the best," said Sr. Lugi.

Three rooms have been prepared for the conjoined twins, which include a sitting room and a kitchen, all fully furnished.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of Finance and Administration, Fr. Kelvin Haule, expressed his joy upon receiving the twins at the university.

He said the academic year begins at the end of October but computer classes start today.

Ruaha Catholic University's computer tutor Robert Manase promised to guide the twins well as they embark on their computer lessons.  "I have come to learn that Maria and Consolata have basic knowledge of computer but because of their nature, I know we have more time and I will do my best to teach them more things regarding computer, this is why they are here earlier than the rest," said the computer tutor.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Arrested Development

Oftentimes, people who do not live here or have not worked in development ask me, "What's the hardest part of the job?"

Could be a lot of answers to that one single question.  Culture shock.  Language barrier.  Lack of amenities.  Electricity cuts.  Minimal bandwidth.  Squat toilets.  Eating foods that require you to use squat toilets whether you want to or not.  Strange creatures, large and small, creeping and crawling, outside and in.  Strange illnesses, severe or moderate, that hit you like a ton of bricks or linger on for weeks on end.  Dust dust dust, or alternatively, mud mud mud.

But I think the hardest part of working in development is other people.  Not to go all Jean-Paul Sartre on you or anything, it's not because of the people themselves, but because of the communications and miscommunications among all the different types involved.  Whether we are Westerners or locals, the problem is the same: communication - the act of conveying intended meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs and semiotic rules.

When I first got here, Moshi was very different than it is today.  I will not deny that I have seen a lot of change over the past ten years.  Sky-high buildings with "offices to let."  Cafes serving barista-made coffee drinks with colonial-style wraparound porches.  Nail salons and massage parlors.  An enormous "superstore" selling everything from Heinz baked beans to flat-screen TVs.

But what has not changed is the way in which development occurs, or does not occur in this case.  All the old gaps are still there, the redundancies, the lack of partnership, the bickering and squabbling in both the NGO community as well as the local government community.

Everyone seems to put some sort of proprietary sense of "my Moshi" above what really matters - communication - something of which I have been guilty at times too.  When you look at it logically, "my Moshi" means something different to every single one of us, whether you're an expat New Yorker looking for the meaning of life or a Chagga schoolchild trekking a couple kilometers to and from class everyday.  I think it's fair to say that if Moshi has room for all of us - so nationally and culturally diverse - so should we find a way to make room for "all of Moshi."

Tanzania had a population of 45 million people when I first came here in 2007.  Now it's 55 million.  The shilling was 1250 to the dollar.  Now it's 2250.  Is it reasonable to assume that if we all worked together, if we actually communicated, the case might be different?

Among the Western community, it's a shame because we pretty much all came here with the same purpose: to help others less fortunate than ourselves.  But then sometimes we get wrapped up in our own narratives.  Which is fine to some extent because this is how we have chosen to live our lives.  But to another extent, there's a selfishness, a need for others' approval and platitudes.  "What wonderful work you are doing!"  "God bless you!"  "You're a saint!"

I am not a saint.  For one thing, I'm Jewish.  For another, I'm distinctly flawed.  And that's okay.  Being flawed is human.  Being human is real.

Among the local community, it's a shame because there is still an overall lack of responsibility in the uplifting of one's own nation.  People don't vote, have given up hope of any kind of fair governance, have lost faith in their nationhood.  I still see the same people at the same places doing the same things talking the same game.  There's very little sense of agency, of movement.  There may be passion simmering beneath the surface, but it hardly ever amounts to action.  Complacency abounds.  Communication falls short.

Kilimanjaro and Arusha in the Northern Zone plus Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in the coastal region are basically the only places in which the country has any proper infrastructure.  The tourism industry booms with safari, mountain-climbing, beach getaways, and any number of adventure sports. 

Wazungu (foreigners) are attracted to these places because the rest of the country is basically one giant tumbleweed.  Myself included.  I make no bones about it; I am a city girl and need at least the basic amenities to get by, so I won't even front.  You will not find me roughing it in a Maasai boma made out of cow poop.

But the "real" Tanzania is a place I feel I have not even experienced.  A place I would not even recognize.  Sometimes, I chide myself for living "the good life" here in Moshi and not out in the bush somewhere where the needs are surely far greater than here.  I mean, there's pizza delivery in Moshi these days, for God's sake!

But then, when I am tempted to reproach myself into a place of shame and guilt, I remember the individual stories, both those that I have heard and those that I have told over the years, and even though I do not live in a cow-poop hut, "my Moshi" is a story that matters.  Really, a series of stories over the course of a decade during which people have touched my life, both mzungu and local, and I theirs.  Communication.

So, I guess "development" is subjective as well as objective.  Perhaps the country as a whole remains behind, still lost in a post-colonial and poorly-run republic.  But what I, and others like me, came here to do cannot be underestimated.  Nor can those strides made by those we seek to support, those individuals whose lives have been made better because we worked together.  Because we communicated.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"I Have Not Even Had Lunch Since I Heard the Results."

This blog entry is a shocking (in a good way) addendum to my last post about the chaos in Kenya following the recent presidential election.  From, on September 2nd, Farai Sevenzo reported from Nairobi and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London.  Briana Duggan, Idris Mukhtar, Fabien Muhire, and Katie Polglase also contributed to this report.

Though this is not about Tanzania per se, many people are saying the judiciary overturning of the Kenyan election results have implications that go far beyond Kenya to the entire continent of Africa.

New elections have been called for within two months and though sitting president, Uhuru Kenyatta, has said he doesn't agree with the decision, he has accepted it and so far there has been no violence.

Supporters of the opposition party are obviously joyful beyond belief.  This article veers a tad negatory towards the end, especially with John Kerry's "little aberrations" statement, the murder of the electoral management dude, and Kenyatta's strong political rhetoric.  Yet, the fact that the new vote is happening at all is certainly novel and newsworthy.


Kenya Supreme Court Nullifies Presidential Election, Orders New Vote 

Kenya's Supreme Court has invalidated the result of last month's contentious presidential election and ordered a new vote, the first time in Africa that a court has nullified the re-election of a sitting leader.

The court upheld a petition by opposition candidate Raila Odinga, who said the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 8 was fraudulent.

"The presidential election was not conducted in accordance with the constitution, rendering the declared results invalid, null, and void," Chief Justice David Maraga said, ordering fresh elections within 60 days.

In a decision that surprised many observers, including Odinga and his supporters, four out of six justices agreed with opposition arguments that the electoral commission committed irregularities invalidating the vote.  It also raised questions for international monitors, who had declared the election fair.

Odinga appeared jubilant as he welcomed what he called a "precedent-setting ruling."

"For the first time in the history of African democratization, a ruling has been made by a court nullifying the election of a president," he said.  "This indeed is a very historic day for the people of Kenya and by extension the people of the continent of Africa."

In a televised address to the nation Friday, Kenyatta said he would respect the ruling.

"I disagree with it because as I've said, millions of Kenyans queued, made their choice, and six people have decided that they will go against the will of the people," he said.

Kenyatta said his primary message was for all Kenyans to keep the peace.  "Your neighbor will still be your neighbor regardless of whatever has happened," he said.  "Regardless of their political affiliation, regardless of their religion, regardless of their color, regardless of their tribe."

But on Saturday, Kenyatta criticized the ruling, the chief justice, and the judicial system.

"Every time we do something, a judge comes out and places an injunction.  It can't go on like this," Kenyatta said before members of his party in a 30-minute televised speech from his official residence.

Kenya has "a problem" with its judiciary that must be fixed, he said.

"Maraga thinks he can overturn the will of the people," Kenyatta said.  "We shall show you in 60 days that the will of the people cannot be overturned by one or two individuals."

As news of the court's decision spread, cheers and celebrations could be heard in parts of the capital, Nairobi.  In its Kibera slum, an opposition stronghold where some post-election violence erupted last month, hundreds of supporters danced and sang in the streets, some chanting "Uhuru Must Go!"

"It does mean a lot to me.  I am sure Kenya will be at a better place.  I am really happy about the decision," Roseyln Aoko told CNN.

"I am really happy about today.  I have not even had lunch since I heard the results," said Margaret Akinyi, 36.

But it's not yet clear if the ruling will spark public protests.

Although Kenya's 2013 election was mainly peaceful, the country plunged into widespread violence in the aftermath of the 2007 vote.  More than 1,000 people were killed in months of bloodshed after Odinga -- defeated by then-President Mwai Kibaki -- claimed the vote was rigged.

After Kenyatta was declared the winner last month by 54% to 45% over Odinga, sporadic violence erupted in some areas, claiming the lives of at least 24 people.

Odinga is a longtime challenger who has yet to claim the presidency.  Kenyatta, the 55-year-old son of Kenya's founding father, has already served one five-year term.

Kenyatta's lead counsel, Ahmednasir Abdullahi, said in court that his client wanted to see the full judgment to understand how the alleged irregularities would "obliterate" his winning margin of 1.4 million votes.

"My Lord, it's obvious, and I'm not afraid to say, that this is a very political decision you have made this morning, but we will live with the consequences," Abdullahi said.  He added that the will of the people would prevail.

The court has not yet published its full written ruling explaining why the election was invalid but has 60 days to do so.

One of the most contested aspects of the election was the apparent discrepancy between the electronic results as transmitted and the manual count.

The head of Kenya's electoral body, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, suggested that discrepancy was the basis for the court's ruling.

"The focus of the decision is in the transmission of presidential results.  Therefore there were no aspersions cast on the voting and the counting of the votes," Chairman Wafula Chebukati said.

Chebukati said the commission was committed to ensuring that the new election "is done in accordance with the constitution, the relevant laws" and urged the prosecution of any staffer found to have broken the law.  He also said he had no plans to step down.

"The commission urges all Kenyans to remain calm and restrain themselves from any political rhetoric that may undermine the stability and cohesion of our country," he said.

In his address after the ruling, Odinga said he had "no faith" in the electoral commission.  "They have committed criminal acts.  Most of them actually belong in jail and, therefore, we are going to ask prosecution for all the electoral commission officials who have committed this monstrous crime against the people of Kenya."

Speaking later at a rally, he also condemned international election monitors.

"With this courageous verdict, we put on trial the international observers who moved so fast to sanitize fraud.  Their role must be examined as it is highly politicized and currently puts status quo and stability ahead of a credible election," he said.

Amnesty International's country director for Kenya, Justus Nyang'aya, said the "ruling demonstrates the independence of Kenya's judiciary and sets an example for the rest of the world."  He urged all parties to comply with the judgment and called on police to exercise restraint in their handling of celebrations or protests.

Most of the demonstrators in last month's post-election were supporters of Odinga, who had called the vote rigged.  National election officials dismissed the accusations, however, saying it was free and credible.

More than 400 international election monitors were deployed across the country to monitor voting, the tallying process and the post-election period.

Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, an election observer for the Carter Center, said then that the election was not rigged despite "little aberrations here and there."

In one unexplained incident, the head of information technology for Kenya's Integrated Electoral Management System, Chris Msando, was found slain days before the vote.  His department is responsible for voter-identification and result-transmission technology.

Any unrest in Kenya could have ripple effects far beyond the nation of 47 million people.

As the largest economy in East Africa, Kenya is a crucial trade route to the continent and provides an important buffer of stability in a region that includes the fledgling Somali government and the politically tense Sudan and South Sudan.

Trading on Kenya's stock exchange, the Nairobi Securities Exchange, was briefly suspended following the ruling but has since resumed.