The following essay by Harsh Ghildiyal won third place in our student writing competition, held as part of our call for essays for our recently published essay collection, “The Good Life in Asia’s Digital 21st Century.”
India, Indonesia, and Malaysia are three emerging Asian countries where a multitude of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) projects have been implemented. Given their similar social and economic conditions, we can learn from projects in these countries by examining the reasons for their success and pitfalls. While doing so, we must examine how effective the projects are and what the reasons are for their effectiveness (or lack thereof).
ICT4D projects are typically well thought-through and, once implemented, are usually effective. But the use of ICT for development is only fruitful if the targets of the initiatives are open to and comfortable with the technology. In India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, there are a few urban areas that one might term developed, while the majority of these countries is largely underdeveloped. While projects aimed at rural areas have convincing models that might prove highly beneficial for individuals, they often forget to consider two things. First, the technologies’ target individuals are seldom open to change, which is why they first need to be convinced of the importance of technology and/or explained the potential benefits the projects can have on their living conditions. Second, there is an absence of basic knowledge required to use technology in rural areas. Both these issues boil down to one overarching issue – the lack of e-literacy. This is a common hindrance to effective implementation of ICT4D projects in rural areas in all three countries.
ICT4D projects in developed areas do not face this problem, but it is imperative that ICT4D projects aimed at underdeveloped areas take into account the lack of e-literacy before being enacted. An effective solution to this problem is e-literacy programs in collaboration with governments. E-literacy is a prerequisite for a successful ICT4D program, so organizations and governments will both benefit from the implementation of e-literacy programs. The overall efficiency of ICT4D programs will increase while individuals who learn to use technology will have greater access to online resources if they are comfortable with a computer. India, Indonesia, and Malaysia, all have administrative divisions (districts), and the easiest way to implement the e-literacy programs would be to start from these districts and spread until a whole state/higher administrative division is covered. This will ensure the involvement of local bodies in the implementation of the project, thereby facilitating implementation. By looking at projects in all three countries, one can identify important lessons in three stages of the process: (1) initiating, structuring, and promulgating the project (Akshaya, India), (2) Achieving greater e-literacy and promoting corporate social responsibility (Sekolah Guru, Indonesia), and (3) Implementing the project, especially when faced with obstacles (eBario, Malaysia). These projects are detailed below.
Kerala is a state along the Southern coast of India. The Government of Kerala’s “Akshaya Project,” which began over a decade ago in one small district with the goal of creating one e-literate member per family in the Malappuram district, is now a state-wide e-literacy project (Mohanan, 2004). In addition to succeeding in its goal (Malappuram became India’s first e-literate district), it has also provided over 4 million residents of the district with online solutions to numerous services such as E-pay (electronic payment of bills), E-Krishi (a platform for farmers to trade produce), and E-Vidya (a platform that provides advanced IT learning to encourage education and employment) (Shukla, Philip, Bose, Singh & Banerjee, 2007). The Akshaya project is a public-private partnership and organisations and individuals are invited to invest in Akshaya e-centres (computers, webcams, printers, scanners…etc). The government provides investors with e-literacy funds and gives the centres the required content for facilitating e-learning: CDs and software, Internet connectivity, communication, and other services (Gurumurthy, Singh & Kasinathan, 2005). The project consists of two phases: the first phase involves ensuring that participants learn about technology, computers, and the Internet. Investors are also provided with funds, termed e-literacy funds – otherwise known as reimbursement funds – that allow investors to recover a major share of their investment in the first phase of the project itself. In the second service delivery phase (after most individuals become familiar with computers and the Internet), the centre becomes an establishment that offers e-learning (certificate courses, etc.), e-commerce, e-governance, and communication services, which enables
investors to earn a steady income. This model of inviting individuals to set up such centres and the two-phase implementation of the project has proved to be very successful, and will help Kerala become India’s first fully IT-literate state (Press Trust of India, 2015).
Bario is a rural, remote, and underdeveloped community in Borneo, Malaysia. For over a decade, the Centre of Excellence for Rural Informatics, and Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations, University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) in partnership with the local community in Bario have been running eBario, an ICT4D project to bring technology to remote areas (Zen, Hamid, Songan, Yeo and Gnaniah, 2004). Uniquely, the targeted areas of the eBario project were isolated, making implementation of the program difficult. To teach locals how to use technology for their businesses, the program established computer laboratories and a community telecentre in Bario, thus empowering the local community by boosting Bario’s economy and improving quality of life (Harris, Bala, Songan, Lien & Trang, 2000). The project started out with the following objectives: (1) teach Borneo’s local community how to communicate with the world and promote interaction both within and outside the community; (2) provide increased access to information about health, agriculture, education, government, culture…etc; (3) promote the local culture on the Internet to encourage tourism; and (4) identify new opportunities to use information and communication technologies for development of rural communities (Harris, Bala, Songan, Lien & Trang, 2000). Though the project faced a number of issues because of Bario’s remote location, involving the local community helped the project become a huge success. Now, tourism contributes significantly to the local economy with an increase in the number of restaurants, lodges, and hotels in Bario as local lodge and hotel owners have started using the telecentre to communicate with potential clients by means of email and also promote their tourist services online (Yeo, Songan & Hamid, 2007). The number of flights to Bario has doubled (Yap, 2010). Both the computer laboratories and the community telecentres set-up by the eBario project have played crucial roles. In 2010, the local clinic in Bario became the first rural clinic with Internet access in the state (Yap, 2010). The medical technician utilised the facilities provided by the telecentre to share medical information with doctors located in towns, which helped obtain more information about ailments, drugs, and their usage. The telecentre and computer laboratories have also helped the community preserve their cultural heritage online, creating a digital library featuring Kelabit writings and enabling the local Kelabit community stay in touch with Kelabits that have moved out of Bario (Yap, 2010). The Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation of Malaysia was so pleased with the success of the project that the UNIMAS team was granted RM4 million to replicate the same model in five other remote areas in Malaysia (Mohamad, 2007).
Sekolah Guru, Indonesia
Sekolah Guru Indonesia is a project by Indonesian NGO Dompet Dhuafa. Recently, Indonesian e-commerce heavy-hitter Berniaga.com (a listing website) partnered with Intel to fund Dumpet Dhuafa’s Sekolah Guru Indonesia project as a part of their corporate social responsibility initiative (Cosseboom, 2014). Like the Akshaya project and the eBario project, the Sekolah Guru Indonesia project aims to increase digital literacy in Indonesia’s remote and rural areas. The model adopted by the project trains young individuals to become teachers. The newly-minted teachers then visit poverty-stricken areas with recently constructed learning centres and transfer their knowledge to locals following a well-structured curriculum. After teaching them the basics about computers, the students follow a program spread over twenty eight hours that is comprised of 14 modules covering topics like word processing, Internet usage, Excel spreadsheets, e-mail and other basic software and Internet-based tools that increase the chances of employment and assist those running businesses (Cosseboom, 2014). The Sekolah Guru Indonesia project is a prime example of the benefits of corporate social responsibility to individuals in need through ICT4D, and especially e-literacy projects.
Drawing parallels between the Akshaya Project in India, the Sekolah Guru Indonesia project in Indonesia, and the eBario project in Malaysia, we can establish that the following set of principles adopted within each of these projects (which targeted the individuals living in remote areas) can ensure success in future projects implemented in these – as well as other countries – with similar social and economic conditions.
First, the Akshaya project is a strong example of implementation. The two- phase implementation began with one small division (district) and then spread to a larger administrative division (the rest of the state) by means of a public- private partnership model. The Akshaya project also teaches the significance of government involvement (local or national) in the successful implementation of an e-literacy project (Narayan, 2013).
Second, the Sekolah Guru project sheds light on how to actually go about effectively making individuals e-literate. It has a well-structured curriculum divided into fourteen modules of two hours each and is taught by trained individuals who are interested in passing on knowledge to others (Cosseboom, 2014). The program also highlights how corporate social responsibility obligations cannot only encourage development, but also employment.
Third, the eBario project teaches us how technology can transform areas. During implementation, the project faced numerous obstacles, including Bario’s remote location. But involving the local community transformed Bario into a tourist attraction where owners of hotels, lodges and tourist services use the community telecentre to communicate with clients and promote tourism in Bario (Yeo, Songan & Hamid, 2007).
The importance of e-literacy is very clear. For any ICT4D project to be effective, the targets must be open to using technology. With a major chunk of the population of Asian countries located in underdeveloped areas, organisations implementing ICT4D projects should primarily focus on implementing e-literacy projects in these areas with the above principles in mind. This will ensure two things: (1), basic computer literacy for individuals in the areas, which will increase prospects of employment, and (2) the target population of ICT4D projects will be familiar with technology and can actually benefit from ICT4D projects. This will ensure a positive impact of ICT4D projects on Asia and beyond.\
Harsh Ghildiyal is a Student at the National Law University, Visakhapatnam, India.
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This essay is part of our recently published essay collection, “The Good Life in Asia’s Digital 21st Century“. All contents are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International.
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