Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Viet Nam: Diving in at the Deep End

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Viet Nam: Diving in at the Deep End

Article excerpt

The government has launched an ambitious project to develop information technology. But local conditions are not quite ready for it yet

A stone's throw from the mausoleum of the late Ho Chi Minh is an ordinary-looking government building with an old-fashioned entrance and a shabby hallway. It is the headquarters of the Steering Committee of the National Programme for Information Technology. Upstairs, things are different. There we find young computer experts, tapping away on state-of-the-art computers.

Here in the heart of Hanoi's embassy district, the Vietnamese are charting the way ahead for their country's computer industry. One of the things they are trying to do is come up with a"Vietnamese solution" to the millennium bug problem. It is here that part of the future is being mapped out for a sector which the country has chosen to enter at the top end of the markets, by moving into high-value-added activities.

The Vietnamese are not interested in data inputting factories. Despite approaches from several foreign investors, this kind of "low tech" work is not very common, except at times of major national surveys such as a population census.

Just as the opening-up of the economy proclaimed in 1986 was finally getting off the ground, the communist government agreed in 1993 on an ambitious "master plan" to develop information technology. The plan, which only really got going three years ago and runs until the year 2000, declares that "priority will be given to developing a software industry".

Nguyen Kim Anh, the Moscow and Paris-educated head of the plan's research and training centre, says developing software is the only possible way forward for a country as poor as Viet Nam, whose per capita income is no more than $300. She says that "neither the government, the private sector nor the universities have the money to invest seriously in hardware development."

Tinkering students

The "master plan" covers all sectors - public administration, with the setting-up of departmental socio-economic databases accessible by intranet; banking and finance, with the dissemination of reliable information about the future stock exchange; defence and security; and industry itself. The government has promised to take steps to "help and encourage" public and private firms. …

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