MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 25 November 2004
“People won’t benefit from improved access to digital networks, if the necessary capabilities to select, apply and interpret the available information are not better developed”, says Arnold Pietersen of the Community Education Computer Society (CECS). With oversight from ICT NGOs from Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia, CECS designed an ‘ICT Literacy’ programme.
At the end of the eighty-hour programme, participants are able to use word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation software, design a basic web page using HTML, and perform basic computer troubleshooting and maintenance. Thinking ahead to outside the classroom, students ask how ICTs can be used in development, agriculture, health, and small business development. Political understanding of ICTs is an integral part of the curriculum. Students discuss the notion of local content development and develop an awareness of the free and open source software debate. By the end of the course, students should be able to describe what the digital divide is and Africa’s place in the information society, as well as explain the relationship between ICTs and rights.
And it doesn’t stop there. The exercises for the computer training centre around HIV/AIDS, so a student learning to use a word-processing programme is typing up AIDS prevention material.
In January 2002, CECS received a grant from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), for the design and implementation of an ICT Literacy project in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia. CECS made contact with a number of ICT NGOs in the mentioned countries and country committees were established to oversee the implementation of the ICT Literacy project.
A meeting was held in Johannesburg in June 2003, attended by two committee members per country, where a memorandum of understanding was agreed to after discussion. An ICT curriculum was developed and a train-the-trainer workshop was held in Johannesburg in September 2003 for 3 weeks which was attended by two trainers per country.
"Bridging the digital divide calls for a new focus on building ICT skills at much greater scales than ever before. ICTs provide developing countries with an opportunity to meet the Millennium Development Goals on poverty alleviation, basic healthcare and education," says Arnold Pietersen of CECS, "but the benefits of ICTs will be limited without ICT education and training. People just won’t benefit from improved access to digital networks, if the necessary capabilities to select, apply and interpret the available information are not better developed.
"The ICT literacy curriculum and training is not a means to an end, but is intended to spur on action," explains Arnold.