Okune, Angela. 2018. "Tech Philanthrophy and 'Entrepreneuring' Education in Africa." In PhD Orals Document: Decolonizing the African University. University of California, Irvine. October.
Leveraging assumptions about the efficiency of business corporations (in comparison to perceptions about corrupt African governments) as well as humanitarian rhetoric brought about by a rise in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs (see Rajak 2011), Silicon Valley technology start-up companies are increasingly filling the role of service provider across parts of Africa. The seductive tales of highly successful mobile phone-based services such as M-PESA instills a belief that entrepreneurship coupled with information communication technologies (ICTs) can solve the world’s biggest challenges. But as communications scholar Vincent Mosco (2005) has highlighted, this myth conceals the fact that technology’s control continues to remain in the hands of a few global businesses. In this section, I explore how international and transnational corporations and organizations are leveraging moral calls of “empowerment through enterprise” (Rajak 2011) for their own gain. These companies are “entrepreneuring” to get around issues (for example in public education) that were in fact largely brought about when IMF structural adjustment programs in the 1980s gutted the capacity and functioning of many African public sectors including the public education sector. Instead of supporting citizen efforts to hold governments to account and boosting government’s own abilities to provide public services, for-profit tech companies ultimately are in it to extract a profit. While this may be helpful in the short-term, what are the long-term implications and risks of outsourcing basic free and public education to a Silicon Valley technology company that reports to its investors and seeks to make a profit? The recent closure of several Bridge International schools as well as AltSchools in the US demonstrate the instability and fickle nature of relying on a start-up to provide such an important public service as education.
This section of the essay includes a nested essay focusing on two case studies: AltSchool, a for-profit tech education start-up based in Silicon Valley that purports to offer highly tailored education that uses technology to target each student’s “needs and passions" and Bridge International, a for-profit tech education start-up started by three Americans with strong ties to Silicon Valley that has raised over $100 million from tech giants like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg as well as global development organizations like the International Finance Company (a part of the World Bank). The two examples illustrate the kinds of "solutions" that Silicon Valley is proposing to address the "education crisis" in the US and in the global South. The two are put in the same frame because not only do they share funders such as Chan-Zuckerberg Foundation, they also have some of the same advisors who sit on their boards. These cases are revealing of the types of values, concepts, and need for scale that drive "innovation" in the education sector.
This essay is part of a broader orals document on Decolonizing the African University. Additional sub-essays within the document can be found through the following links:
Ethics and Responsibility | Colonial Policies and Practices of Education in Africa | Bretton Woods and Investments in Education for Development | Politics and Practices of the Neoliberal University | Proposals for Alternative Approaches to Education | Tech Philanthropy | Openness and Academic Infrastructures
Abstract: " Since the turn of the millennium, the major development agencies have been promoting “knowledge for development,” “ICT for development,” or the “knowledge economy” as new paradigms to prompt development in less-developed countries. These...Read more
Abstract: "Today the halls of Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) and Davos reverberate with optimism that hacking, brainstorming, and crowdsourcing can transform citizenship, development, and education alike. This article examines these claims ethnographically and historically...Read more
Abstract: " From the rising number of hackerspaces to an increase in hardware start-ups, maker culture is envisioned as an enabler of the next industrial revolution—a source of unhindered technological innovation, a revamp of broken economies and educational systems. Drawing from...Read more
Angela Okune: This 2016 paper by Ben Williamson traces the emergence of four prototypical ‘silicon startup schools’ as exemplars of a technocratic mode of corporatized education reform. Williamson highlights how these "startup schools" originate in the culture, discourse and ideals of...Read more
AO: This 2016 article by Heather Roberts-Mahoney, Alexander Means and Mark Garrison conducts a content analysis of US Department of Education reports, personalized learning advocacy white papers, and published research monographs in order to detail how big data and adaptive learning...Read more
Abstract: " Science and technology have been integral issues of development cooperation for more than sixty years. Contrary to early efforts’ transfer of established technologies from the West to developing countries, contemporary technology aspirations increasingly articulate and...Read more
Angela Okune: This call for participants (received via email on May 29, 2018) to a half-day discussion in San Francisco as part of a regularly occuring "Technology Salon" centers on the question of how Silicon Valley can improve online learning in "emerging economies." The framing of the event...Read more
Details forthcoming. Pre-publication chapters shared with A. Okune via email from author.Read more
Avle, Seyram, and Silvia Lindtner. 2016. “Design(Ing) ‘Here’ and ‘There’: Tech Entrepreneurs, Global Markets, and Reflexivity in Design Processes.” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2233–2245. CHI ’16. New York, NY, USA: ACM. https://doi.org/10.1145/2858036.2858509.
Cherlet, Jan. 2014. “Epistemic and Technological Determinism in Development Aid.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 39 (6): 773–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243913516806.
Fejerskov, Adam Moe. 2017. “The New Technopolitics of Development and the Global South as a Laboratory of Technological Experimentation.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 42 (5): 947–68. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243917709934.
Irani, Lilly. forthcoming. Innovators and Their Others: Entrepreneurial Citizenship in Indian Development. Princeton University Press.
———. 2015. “Hackathons and the Making of Entrepreneurial Citizenship.” Science, Technology & Human Values 40 (5): 799–824. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243915578486.
Lindtner, Silvia. 2015. “Hacking with Chinese Characteristics: The Promises of the Maker Movement against China’s Manufacturing Culture.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 40 (5): 854–79. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243915590861.
Roberts-Mahoney, Heather, Alexander J. Means, and Mark J. Garrison. 2016. “Netflixing Human Capital Development: Personalized Learning Technology and the Corporatization of K-12 Education.” Journal of Education Policy 31 (4): 405–20. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2015.1132774.
Technology Salon San Francisco. 2018. “2018 TECHNOLOGY SALON SF: ‘HOW CAN SILICON VALLEY IMPROVE ONLINE LEARNING IN EMERGING ECONOMIES?,’” May 29, 2018. http://worldpece.org/content/2018-technology-salon-sf-how-can-silicon-valley-improve-online-learning-emerging-economies.
Williamson, Ben. 2016. “Silicon Startup Schools: Technocracy, Algorithmic Imaginaries and Venture Philanthropy in Corporate Education Reform.” Critical Studies in Education 0 (0): 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2016.1186710.