Development Workshop organised in the framework of INET'97, the annual Internet Society conference which was held this year in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Mohammed-Sani Abdulai, is a lecturer at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Ghana and Chairman of the Education Committee of the Ghana Chapter of the Internet Society.
The telecentre: a community place for communication and learning
When talking of using Internet as a tool in rural communities, is there not a problem that many people can't read and write?
Initially yes. But you can use the medium to educate the people how to read and write. We have an adult literacy programme going on in rural areas of Ghana where people are taught how to read and write in their own language so they can communicate amongst themselves and share ideas. That would be a good platform to use the Internet. You could set up home pages and learn how to read and write in you own language. Eventually it would be a good medium for people to communicate among themselves.
Do you think we can find someone in the village who knows how to read and write and can learn how to use the telephone, fax and Internet?
That would be quite easy because in the adult literacy programme we have adult instructors who have a basic education and who go from one place to another doing this training. We could do a trainer trainer programme in which we train some of them to use these facilities and they could then impart that knowledge to the other members of the community.
So the idea of having Internet in the local rural community is not only a communication process but also a learning process.
Yes. It is a learning process.
What exactly would be the role of women in this?
The women are showing more interest in this aspect of learning than men. In Ghana we have women's organisations who have to learn to communicate amongst themselves so they are getting involved in co-operative ventures and rural industries. That would be a good way to encourage and enhance the process.
Are women more willing than men to learn and undertake things?
Yes they are. There are women's organisations like the NGO "Womenkind" that tries to encourage women to invest in rural industry.
Is there an awareness of the Internet in that context?
The whole idea of the Internet is new to the Ghana community, but it is gaining momentum. We have just formed an ISOC Ghana Chapter, and one of our programmes is to carry the Internet to rural folk, setting up community based networks through community centres.
What exactly is a community centre?
It is a place within the village or district where people can go and learn how to use the Internet to communicate with other people.
How will you finance this type of work?
There are a number of possible avenues of funding. One of them is the SNDP programme of UNDP. Some money has been approved for Ghana and we are contacting them to see what we can do. We are also trying to see what we can do with government sectors as well.
What is the reaction of the government?
We have had a very favourable response. We have already organised a workshop on Internet working with participants drawn from the public sector (ministries, educational institutions,...) and at the end of the day we gave them a project to design home pages from their respective organisations. The government were impressed with the home pages and that led to the inclusion of a government budget for Internet.
What is interesting in your way of working is that it is hybrid. It concerns the community, communication, education. As such it goes beyond the limits of how learning is seen in the school context. How do people in the Ministry for Education react to the idea?
There was quite a favourable reaction from them. They themselves had noticed a disparity in educational resources in the country, between advanced centres and rural areas. They are trying to set up a distance leaning programme. If these community based networks are set up in rural areas they will be able to access resources which are only available in the advanced centres.
What is happening with schools?
There is universal compulsory education from 6 to 12 in Ghana. You find a school in most villages, however, it is not possible to equip all schools with the necessary facilities so the idea of science resource centres - which the government plans to set up including in rural areas - is to create a pool where schools can visit. Putting networking facilities in such science resource centres would help a lot so that even if there is no centre in a rural area because of the difficulty finding necessary human resources, at least people can access them via the network. The science resource centres are organised in conjunction with the UK ODA (Overseas Development Agency) who are to train people to manage the centres. Giving those people training in internetworking would also help a lot.
What would be the relationship between the telecentres and village schools?
People from schools in that area can visit the telecentres and the good ones from among students could play a role in educating their parents.
Are there any telecentres already functioning?
We already have privately owned communication centres. The pilot project of a telecentre is in a town in the North West of Ghana and was initiated by the Ministry of Communications in conjunction with the ITU. And if it is successful it will be extended elsewhere. As for the science resource centres, they are already in place.
Interview by Alan McCluskey, Kuala Lumpur.Share or comment
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