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Expanding access to education and economic potential in Malawi

May 7, 2019

A range of obstacles leaves more than 80,000 Malawi citizens without access to higher education each year.

With a $10 million grant from the United States Agency for International Development, Arizona State University is on the ground in Malawi working with local educators and universities to build out a framework that will expand access to education around the country.

Throughout the four-year project, ASU will expand access to online education and distance learning initiatives and will train educators on delivering course instruction in remote areas. The work will focus primarily on improving education opportunities for the country’s poor and rural citizens, people with disabilities and women and girls. Improving educational attainment will lead to increases in Malawi’s skilled and employable workforce, boosting the country’s economy.

“We have a lot of experience at ASU in structuring educational experiences in a way that students located throughout the world can benefit from programs and courses delivered in a way that coincides with their day-to-day lives,” said Samuel DiGangi, associate professor in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and primary investigator on the project. “We are working with universities in Malawi to share what we’ve learned at ASU through our experiences so that we can help contextualize and localize new approaches that will benefit learners in Malawi.”

Associate Professor Sam DiGangi

The project’s goals include providing financial support through scholarships, as well as building effective and accessible education opportunities through online and distance learning programs. Each component will also involve moving beyond technology in order to assist learners with challenges that may include limited ability to travel or limited internet connectivity and electricity access.

The Malawian academic partners working with ASU are Mzuzu University, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Malawi University of Science and Technology, and the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College and Malawi Polytechnic programs.

“We also hope to have an impact on the perception and awareness of the importance of access to education for women and girls,” DiGangi said. “Removing the barriers to higher education that have existed in the past will have a positive impact on the country’s economy and its communities, and that is a priority for us.”

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Fighting the threats of the future now

May 7, 2019

Threatcasting workshop brings together multidisciplinary minds to counter cyberthreats from 10 years in the future

Fake news. Weaponized narratives. AgitpropAgitprop is political propaganda, especially in art or literature. .

It’s all chatter, until someone puts down the keyboard, picks up a gun and walks into a house of worship.

How do you fight that?

Finding answers to that question was the goal of a two-day exercise at Arizona State University this week called the Disruption of Narrative Threatcasting Workshop.

About 50 representatives from academia, industry and the military broke into teams to work on scenarios and solutions.

“The teams are important because we are designing the future,” said Cyndi Coon, chief of staff for the Threatcasting Lab.

Threatcasting is a conceptual framework and process that enables multidisciplinary groups to envision and plan in a systematic fashion against threats 10 years in the future. 

The workshop was hosted by ASU’s Weaponized Narrative Initiative. Weaponized narrative is an attack that seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity and will. By generating confusion, complexity and political and social schisms, it confounds response on the part of the defender.

Efforts by Russia to meddle in the elections of Western democracies — including France and Germany as well as the United States — are in the news. The Islamic State’s weaponized narrative has been highly effective. Even political movements have caught on, as one can see in the rise of the alt-right in the United States and Europe.

“We think the way out of this is culture and values,” initiative co-founder Joel Garreau said.

The Weaponized Narrative Initiative gathers people and research focused on action against the "wicked" problems like misinformation on the internet. Software code alone won’t change anything, participants said. It’s a battle for minds, trust and truth. It’s a human problem.

The term “Disruption of Narrative” was unknown 10 years ago.

“Today, it’s eating our lunch,” said Braden Allenby, founding co-director of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative.

The teams used research syntheses from different areas of knowledge.

“It’s a way to gather the expertise from this group,” said Brian David Johnson, director of the Threatcasting Lab, futurist in residence at the Center for Science and the Imagination and professor of practice at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “We don’t want to make predictions. We want to get it right. We want to empower people to protect themselves.”

The final product of the workshop willl be a report that describes a scenario with a person in a place experiencing a threat.

“You’re going to be modeling multiple threats and multiple futures,” Johnson said.

Over the next five years, the Threatcasting Project will conduct interdisciplinary, collaborative sessions twice each year to envision and generate approaches to combatting future cyberthreats.

Top photo by Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now