Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Sustaining a Nepali Telecenter: An Ethnographic Study Using Activity Theory

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Sustaining a Nepali Telecenter: An Ethnographic Study Using Activity Theory

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Nepal and Technology

Developing countries such as Nepal struggle to keep up with 21st Century technology. While advances have made it possible for the average Nepali to access mobile phones, computers, and digital cameras, barriers continue to impede access. Like other governments (Huerta & Sandoval-Almazan, 2007) (Mokhtarian & Ravikumar, 2002), Nepal responded in 2004 with telecenters to push sustainable technology to its people. Five years later most telecenters struggle to accomplish their purpose (Lee, 2009a).

Technology in Nepal is evolving rapidly (Lee, 2004). In many rural communities, homes do not have landlines, yet cell phone usage is abundant, cheap, and reliable. Cell towers have been built throughout Nepal so that all 75 districts have coverage. In terms of Internet connectivity, communities in mountainous regions are significantly more limited. In such cases, communities can use either SIM cards from cell phones to connect to the Internet or USB connection devices called CDMI to connect computers and laptops to the Internet (Lee, 2009b).

Telecenters in Nepal

In 2004, the government of Nepal responded to local technological needs by creating a series of telecenters in rural villages. These centers provide basic computer needs such as Internet access, email, printing and photocopying to the communities. Overtime, these centers evolved to further meet community needs.

On the surface, it may appear that telecenters are successfully serving the needs of the community. However, based on nearly ten years of ongoing interaction with over a dozen telecenters in Nepal, it was apparent that most struggle with sustainability. A deeper investigation into Nepali telecenters revealed that most are youth driven and operated. Youth face the reality of a new post-civil war government and economic instability and are eager to take control of their future and embrace technology as a means of creating change. This parallels similar countries around the world where youth are looking to technology as a vehicle to mobilize support for change (United Nations, 2007). As a result, youth tend to be the biggest consumers of technology and participate the most in telecenter activities.

Like other developing countries, in Nepal, technology often symbolizes wealth. Nepali's living conditions are poor, and government instability creates a climate of uncertainty. Ownership of technology is representative of power and authority. On many occasions, donors discovered telecenter equipment to be locked up and inaccessible for the youth, who are the intended users. Male elders, who are the main decision makers for Nepalese communities, play a significant role in this struggle for control. Several telecenters reported that elders do not understand how to use technology, yet lock the technology up as a means of control (Lee, 2005).

PROBLEM STATEMENT

Anecdotal findings suggested a need for a deeper understanding of tensions within Nepali telecenters. This study focused on one Nepali telecenter by seeking to answer the research question: What tensions exist within the Sankhu telecenter? To understand the issues, an ethnographic approach was adopted as the method for data collection. Given the nature of the problem, Activity Theory (as described by Engestrom, Lompscher, & Ruckriem, 2005) was used as a framework for analyzing and understanding the tensions Sankhu youth face. As a descriptive theory, it fits properly with an ethnographic study (Spradley, 1979). The analysis of tensions will provide valuable information for improving current and future telecenter programs.

Significance of Study

The findings of this study are significant in the following ways. The findings can: inform local stakeholders in future telecenter and ICT decisions in Nepal; inform stakeholders working with ICT in other developing countries; and shed light on current cultural norms and decision making protocols in Nepali villages related to technology. …

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