Joint Colloquium Distinguished Lecture Series

Aluminum Foil Satellite Dishes, Poverty and Potatoes: The Peru Project

photo of Alison Young Wednesday, December 10, 2008
306 Soda Hall (HP Auditorium)
4:00 - 5:00 pm

Alison Young
Unitec New Zealand


This address will describe an ICT research project that is context specific and achieved economic and social turnarounds where other ICT projects have failed. The message for computer science educators and professionals is that desired impact has less to do with science and technology and more to do with understanding context and culture. Evaluating implementation options to advance educational and social needs is applying intelligence to technology. Technology without context is a chasm.

Literature on contextual relevance such as Habermas, Friere, Husserl, Gadamer, Borgman, abounds. However the absence of minorities in our computer classes, the overarching business use of technology to automate historic processes and the obsession with development of new technologies in the abstract without considering their applications indicate that our profession is slow to grasp this.

The ancient Incan culture, through the Quechuan people of Antabamba Peru, a remote indigenous society high in the Andean Mountains has over 700 years of proven social, environmental and economically sustainable practice. Until only 10 years ago Antabamba was a time capsule which was isolated from the world by several days walk from the nearest road. When the road was built in 1995 the multinational products, television, marketing and western philosophies of business practice soon followed. Within 10 years the population of Antabamba was worse off than in anytime in the previous 700 years and risked losing what the developed world is in search of, sustainable practice.

Starting in 2003 the Unitec project spent a year learning what had underpinned this ancient culture. Yesterdays wireless technologies, internet, web design, No. 8 wire, aluminum foil satellite dishes and some basic tools were grounded in the traditional Incan methodologies of sharing, learning and understanding. Unparalleled results were achieved. Together with the local communities, the Unitec project developed a methodology called "Community Centric Empowerment" (CCE) which has been attributed by OSIPTEL, the Telecommunications Authority in Peru and the Latin American telecommunication council representative as the deciding factor that has separated this project from other "telecenter" projects in Latin America.

Additional studies focusing on the ability of ICT to reduce poverty and exploitation in third world countries by FITEL, the Rural development wing of OSIPTEL in Peru, support the notion of the importance of how, rather than what, when it comes to ICT use for poverty reduction (Bossio 2005) (Newman 2006). These studies showed the usage patterns and impact of the Unitec project to be quite distinctive compared with any other poverty alleviation project using ICT.

In keeping with the phenomenological methodology of the initial study, this address will describe the story of the Peruvian project to demonstrate to ICT educators and professionals that how we implement ICT is as important as what we implement, when social and economic sustainability are our objectives. It lays down a challenge to ICT educators and professionals to reconsider the priorities in our teachings and philosophies.


Alison joined Unitec New Zealand in 1997 as Head of School of Computing and Information Technology, after seven years in a similar position at Waikato Polytechnic. Her move into the education sector commenced in 1972 at Auckland Technical Institute, following a number of years in systems analysis and programming with major New Zealand corporations and private consultancy. Alison was Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications from 1988 until 1998 and has chaired national and international conferences including General Chair of the NACCQ Annual conference in 2006. Her contribution to computing education in New Zealand was recognized by her nomination as Computing Educator of the Century in 2002. Alison's recent research projects include: women and computing, e-learning implementation, computing and information technology education and the Poverty Alleviation Project in Peru. She is a Fellow of the NZCS and the NACCQ and is a Board member of ACM SIGCSE and a member of the ACM Education Council.

  Return to EECS Joint Colloquium