Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Telecentres Share the Tools of the Information Age

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Telecentres Share the Tools of the Information Age

Article excerpt

Telecentres offer a promising route for rural communities of the developing world to break out of their isolation

I Christopher Senono used to travel by bicycle 16 kilometres each way to make a telephone call. A 30-year-old businessman from Nakaseke, Uganda, he managed his small lumber and brick retail trade by talking on the phone with suppliers in Kampala. The trip seemed natural in a country where the "teledensity" is roughly three phone lines per 1,000 inhabitants. Not any more! Life in this village 60 km from Kampala has changed since the opening of a multipurpose community telecentre (MGT) in 1999.

First launched in 1985 in the farming community of Velmdalen (Sweden), telecentres aim to introduce new information and communication technologies to isolated areas and provide people with the skills to benefit from them. After spreading throughout rural areas of the North, they are now cropping up in Africa, Latin America and Asia, often with support from international development agencies. It is likely that at least several hundred new centres are being started up each year. In countries where individual ownership of information and communications is out of most people's reach, these telecentres may become the primary way of allowing vast numbers to participate in the information economy, provided a few basic conditions are met.

The first step is often to demonstrate how the equipment and facilities available in a telecentre can be made to work for the communities where they are located. Second, time must be spent helping local farmers, teachers or entrepreneurs understand the value of information and the tools that can be used to access it. Thirdly, staff must have the training and skills to keep abreast of developments in software, hardware and networking technology. The most efficient way to do this is to ensure that they have a forum within which to meet, both virtually and humanly, so that links are created among them. Finally, once the telecentre is up and running, its staff must court the community at large and introduce its members to basic computer skills and identify ways in which they might benefit from the facilities and services.

Identifying and training local champions who will nurture a telecentre project can make or break the success of such a service. It is especially important to have local stakeholders from health clinics, municipalities, elementary schools and teacher training colleges looking over your shoulder. …

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