Madeleine White is a capacity building specialist and Editor-in-Chief of nina-iraq.com
In the last few weeks Nina has run three major interviews. We have spoken to Iraqi civil society leader and global Vital Voices winner Suaad Allami, women’s rights activist and MP Mayson Damaluji as well as Kurdish politician and business leader Parwen Babaker. All three have cited education, linked to inward investment, as being crucial if the current situation in Iraq is to be combatted - and eventually consigned to the distant pages of history.
All wanted to promote business as usual with good education and linked training opportunities for all complementing the region’s natural resources. Today however, a report issued by Al Fanar (regional higher education dossier) highlights that higher education is becoming nigh on impossible to access in Northern Iraq, announcing that IS has shut down 8 universities.
There is obviously no short term, easy answer but I do want to present a perspective, based on my belief that educational technology coupled with the scalability and accessibility of the internet can transform lives. Good content when coupled with satellite broadband can be especially powerful when access to formal educational opportunities are denied; as even the most remote rural or conflict areas can be reached. With the regional challenges being what they are at the moment, putting in place a way to ensure uninterrupted access to education and training might prove to be game-changing in the medium to longer term.
The 2013 the Arab States Mobile Observatory Report issued by GSM Association (representing all mobile operators) suggests that by 2025 spectrum release broadband penetration in Iraq would lead to an increase of +9.5 million in mobile connections which in turn would lead to 4.8% GDP growth. This translates to +US $10.5 billion with an estimated job creation figure of +727,400. Currently mobile penetration in Iraq stands at around 85%.
These figures complement a growing body of expert studies that create a break-down of how mobile telephony impacts economic growth and productivity. Many development economists have come to recognise mobile as a core means by which societies and economies can transform and grow. Mobile phones in the region are evolving from simple communication tools into service delivery platforms. But how much more important is this virtual reach in nation building when mainstream access is threatened or has been removed?
Studies show that good quality educational content, delivered in a way that is non-discriminatory (independent of gender religion race etc.) creates an environment that fosters collaboration and growth; linked to the reach of mobile broadband as described above the benefits can be significant. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) have long been an understood supplement to - or even alternative to traditional methods at higher education level.