The Web, Speech Technologies and Rural Development in West Africa – PhD thesis by Nana Baah Gyan


INFORMATION dissemination in its right format and context, especially in rural Africa, is crucial sometimes even for the survival of market value chains and whole communities. However, many proffered and popular solutions, including the WorldWideWeb (WWW), are often outside the reach of rural dwellers in Africa.

Africa’s mobile telephony infrastructure and subscriber base is one of the fastest growing in the world. Radio technology is another technology that has taken a firm foothold in everyday life in much of sub-Saharan Africa. With this success comes opportunities to reach many with relevant information and aid information dissemination and knowledge sharing efforts in innovative ways. In the context of this research, I describe an ICT for Development (ICT4D) initiative in which indigenous knowledge on soil reclamation is shared on a farmer-to-farmer basis in re-greening efforts in parts of the Sahel threatened by desertification using voice-accessible ICT services.

In this thesis, Nana Baah Gyan investigates  the history of speech systems (broadly referred to as Spoken Dialogue Systems) and what their applications have mainly been in developing countries. He describes strategies for requirements harvesting for an instance of an ICT4D project under rural conditions, the results of which led to an actual implementation of voice-based ICT tools for rural farmers in Mali.

Gyan evaluates the impact of the project on the lives of stakeholders involved as well as the potential such tools and systems hold for future research. He concludes the thesis with generalisations derived from this research, the contexts within which such a research can be undertaken, and lastly, what ICT4D generally means for education in West Africa and beyond in its broader meaning.

Nana Baah Gyan will defend his PhD thesis on April 5th 2016, 11.45 in the Aula of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam – De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Download the thesis.