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“There is an urgent need to examine the catalytic and enabling role to be played by the government in ensuring that IT provides new opportunities for the 40 per cent of the people who are living below the poverty line, so that they may move above it.”
–Government of India Working Group on Information Technology for Masses
Write an essay, that highlights examples that support the second opinion i) Describe 6 different case studies that show how the technology is being used in villages in developing countries (South-East Asia, Africa, Latin America) ii) Assess each case, commenting whether you believe it is beneficial to the community or not and whether those same case studies can be used by supporters of the first opinion above.
As described by Sumeet Chatterjee (2001) the IT initiatives in this village constitute a great example of the wide variety of applications for IT in developing countries. The district is rural and the core industries are farming and mineral extraction with the majority of the people being poor. A major problem in the area is corruption of government officials. People need papers to prove land ownership and other official documents and prior to the IT project’s arrival it typically took weeks to obtain and required expensive payments to officials. Now a villager can go to the local “Soochnalaya” (information centre) and have the information in minutes and for a fraction of the cost. Other information of interest to the villagers such as crop data, rainfall patterns and other documentation are available.
The centralized internet point is a key aspect in bringing IT to the masses. Without government funding to buy a computer and set up the infrastructure there would be no Soochnalayas. IT in this case is a major benefit to the people of the region as it brings information at a low cost which is exactly what these people need to help them in the struggle to develop.
In an online article about this rural village in India Mukti Jain Campion (2002) relates an anecdote about how IT is being used to treat health problems in areas without access to medical technology. In this town an entrepreneur-run public internet center was set up with the help of a large Indian IT government and private venture with the aim of bringing IT to the masses. For few rupees email, information and government forms to the rural poor.
In the case described the internet also serves an important medical service to the people of the area. Only 40km away lies the Aravind Eye Hospital, a hospital dedicated to treating eye problems and where money is not an issue. The problem is having access to patients as majority of people are unable to get to the hospital without considerable difficulty. So at the internet centre a webcam is used to take photos of the symptoms and online chat can be used to talk with the patient. Sound medical advice can then be given for the cost of a few rupees. This is a fantastic application of IT in development and the available benefits are enormous.
Capetown, South Africa
When describing IT initiatives often only computers and internet access are mentioned but IT involves so much more. In South Africa HIV is a major issue with over15% of the population being infected by this terminal disease (Nick Miles. 2005). The SA government has begun to allot drugs to the people who need them but keeping track of the patients and having doctors to check on them all is expensive in terms of both time and money. This is where IT enters the scene. Using mobile phones a non-medical aid worker can interview dozens of people and record the information in the phone. The survey results are then sent by text message to a center where the data is entered into computer software. The software can identify people who need attention and a doctor can pull up the record of any patient and see up to date information. The benefits are obvious.
Cuba, Brazil and Open-Source
The cost of software is often a major percentage of the price of a computer. A copy of Windows XP costs significantly more than the average person in the developing world makes in a day. Despite Microsoft’s initiative to sell Windows at reduced costs to developing nations, free is preferred to paying a fee and nations like Cuba and Brazil are exploring free OS choices.
In a 2004 article Mark Ashurst describes how Brazil is attempting to move from Windows to open-source Linux. There is political resentment against Microsoft but there is also the attraction of free software and no licensing fees that attract people form Windows to Linux. Also susceptibility to viruses and the cost of a network going down also drive people to Linux. Ashurst describes the state of the switch to “Linux in terms that almost 1/3 of computers will soon have Linux installed”.
Cuba is following suit and recently announced a government initiative to switch all computers to Linux (Computer Business Review, 2005).
Whether this IT initiative with greatly benefit the people of these countries remains to be seen. Linux may be cheaper but it requires more training and long term benefits are hard to predict though with reduced costs possible more computers could be distributed.
The Samoan government recently announced a nationwide initiative to bring internet to every person in the country (Prosser, 2004). The government has taken this step to help isolated Samoa increase communication with developed nations in hopes of boosting GDP and therefore standards of living. In the nation of 180,000 only 2% of people use the internet and trade with other nations is difficult to facilitate as New Zealand is the closest developed nation at a 4hr flight away.
The Samoan government has received help from the United Nations Development Programme and is using the money to expand the IT infrastructure. Computers are being placed in schools to help children develop IT skills and also in community centers to allow people access to information and even medical help.
This case is similar to the Indian cases where a single internet centre in a village can make a large difference in the lives of people.
Taita Taveta, Kenya
In Africa there exists the Association for Progressive Communications prize which rewards innovative IT projects in Africa. Last year’s winner was the Global Education Partnership – Wundanyib which is a non-profit computer training programme in one of the poorest regions of Kenya (Association for Progressive Computing, 2005). The project aims to develop business skills in people aged 15-24, training them using IT for setting up their own business. In 9 years nearly 1000 people have graduated and 200 of these were awarded capital to start a business. In Taita Taveta the unemployment rate is 66% so job prospects are hard to come by. By focusing on youth and entrepreneurs the region benefits greatly if any business are started. The youth are given hope and a reason to stay and develop their region.
Each case examined here shows the advantages of IT in plans for development. The cases show ways to improve lives through IT in a variety of avenues, paving the way for regional and national development. The Government of India Working Group on Information Technology for Masses’ statement is correct and bringing IT to poor areas is an important catalyst for development.
Ashurst, Mark. 2004. Brazil falls in love with Linux. Available from <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3445805.stm>.
Association for Progressive Computing, 2005. Winner of the 2004/5 APC Africa Hafkin Communications Prize. Available from <http://www.apc.org./english/hafkin/2004/winner.shtml>. Copyleft Association for Progressive Communications APC 1999 – 2005.
Campion, Mukti Jain. 2002. Connecting the villages. Available from <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/2044878.stm>. © British Broadcasting Corporation.
Chatterjee, Sumeet. 2001. Indian village takes to IT to tackle corruption. Available from <http://www.apnic.net/mailing-lists/s-asia-it/archive/2001/09/msg00019.html>. © Indo-Asian News Service
Computer Business Review. 2005. Cuba joins the Linux revolution. Available from <http://www.cbronline.com/article_news.asp?guid=9B077C17-C2F9-4472-8B28-25F0B19E2F8A.>. © Computer Business Review.
Miles, Nick. 2005. Texting to help SA HIV patients. Available from <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/4437447.stm>. © British Broadcasting Corporation.
Prosser, David. 2004. Samoa plans internet for all. Available from <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3590354.stm>. >. © British Broadcasting Corporation.
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