Information Access for Development: A Case Study at a Rural Community Centre in South Africa

Article excerpt

Introduction

Interaction between humans and computers has greatly increased as we embark on the 21st century. Ability to access computers and the Internet has become increasingly important to completely immerse oneself in the economic, political and social aspects of the world. However not every business have access to this technology. In the global digital information age those who are unable to access the Internet through ICTs are increasingly disadvantaged in their access to information. Government policies in South Africa (ICT charter) are being established which attempt to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to access and effectively use ICT in order to enable them to participate fully in the educational, social and economic activities and democratic processes (Cullen, 2002, p.2). New and powerful technologies can also promote efficiency of enterprises competing in the global economy and public sector service delivery (CIDAs strategy, 2005, p. 5). ICTs are now a standard operating tool in today's information society and the information that ICTs carry is increasingly becoming an important factor of production. Moreover teledensity and power supply are generally accepted as drivers of economic growth in developing countries (Saunders, Warford & Wellenius, 1994 as cited in CIDA 2005). In the poor and underdeveloped regions or countries one has the gap that exist between those who have access to technologies and those who do not, commonly referred to as the digital divide. This divide can result in information and knowledge poverty. However it has to be noted that technology in itself does not solve social and economic discrepancies within societies and can often exacerbate them. Massive growth in the use of ICTs in India for instance has had no impact at all on what has been described as "the highest concentration of poverty in the world" (Rao, 2003, p. 3). Also new technologies do not always replace the old. They may co-exist and in doing so enhance the range of human experience without necessarily diminishing the experience of those who do not use them, preferring older technologies (telephone, radio) to achieve the same ends. The contribution of using the Internet in rural communities seems to be on sharing global knowledge and expertise to help support their initiatives against poverty and disease, better communication with trading partners through e-commerce and the ability to trade opportunities and to use low wage economy and different time zones to monitor and process transactions around the globe (Cullen 2002:3).

Finances and ICTs Adoption in Rural Businesses

In 1990s Cosh & Hughes (2000) indicated that the financial and employment performance of small rural businesses deteriorated relative to urban ones. This climate has stimulated the debate on how best to support rural business activity. Roberts (2002) and Smallbone, North, Baldock, and Ekamen (2002) list barriers to growth in rural businesses and indicate that there is a slower adoption of ICTs among these type of businesses. Friedlander (2001), Roberts (2002) and Warren (2000) emphasize the importance of limited access to communications networks and technology, high usage costs and limited relevant content as reasons for the slow adoption to ICTs in these businesses. Smallbone et al. (2002) and Freshwater (2001) acknowledge an alternative case that there are gaps in labour force skills and reluctance on the part of rural business owner-managers to adapt to the changing environment. In these papers rural businesses are slow to understand the benefits of ICT adoption.

According to Cullen (2002) and Rao (2003) the following factors can be highlighted for preventing rural businesses for reaping the benefits of ICTs and can also be seen as barriers to using technology:

* Physical access (lack of a robust telecommunications infrastructure, computers and connectivity) and costs it involves

* Lack of awareness of the benefits of ICTs

* Lack of ICT skills and support

* Attitudinal barriers like cultural and behavioral attitudes towards technology

* Language barriers in using the Internet especially if English is not the first language

* Lack of local language information products or content, especially tailored to the assimilation capacities of rural people or interesting and relevant to them

* Non-availability of governmental information online

* Lack of motivation to use information over the Internet

These above factors can play a role in a rural community and governments also need to be informed of these in order to ensure they are diminished for better results. …