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Literacy and ICT: Social Constructions in the Lives of Low-literate Youth in Ethiopia & Malawi

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Abstract: This talk explores how literacy and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are socially constructed in the lives of low-literate youth in the context of Ethiopia and Malawi. It brings together social constructionist perspectives to literacy and ICT use, according to which the two are social practices that can only be understood in the social context in which they take place. Literacy and ICTs are becoming more and more interdependent and both are seen as possible solutions for development. However, few studies have qualitatively explored the interaction between the two in contexts where literacy skills are not widespread, such as in Africa. The presentation is based on a study that employed a qualitative multiple method approach (including interviews, focus groups and digital camera interaction) in the context of four research locations in both urban and rural Ethiopia and Malawi, which allowed low-literate youth to express themselves both verbally and visually about the role of ICTs in their lives. Their realities reveal how the use of ICTs is actively shaped by both its users as well as the context of use, particularly in terms of the interplay between literacy and ICTs, physical and cultural contextual factors that constrain ICT use, and the needs of low-literate users and the way in which they shape ICT use according to these needs. Thus, the presentation demonstrates how the interplay between literacy and ICT use is more complex than just compatibility between literacy proficiency and ICT design and highlights how ICT use is divided along similar lines to literacy proficiency by characteristics such as gender, language and geographical location.

This talk is part of the Microsoft Research PhD Scholars series.

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