I initially wrote this as an article and it was published in newspapers “The Zimbabwean” & “The Zimbabwean Financial Gazette” in May 2011.
The modern world is quickly moving towards a ubiquitous computing era. Ubiquitous computing, or calm technology, is a paradigm shift where technology becomes virtually invisible in our lives. Instead of having a desk-top or lap-top machine, the technology we use will be embedded in our environment.
More and more people are gaining access to computers and the internet at work and at home, and broadband services are increasing in speed while simultaneously decreasing in cost. So a ‘digital divide’ between Zimbabwe and the rest of the world (especially Europe and the USA) is not immediately apparent to many people. But a glance below the surface tells a very different story. You only have to visit Europe or the USA to experience and appreciate the magnitude of this digital divide. Evolving from a resource-based towards a knowledge-based economy, keeping up with international developments is absolutely critical. Something needs to be done urgently.
The ability to use a computer has already become a basic necessity in order to be employable in a professional working environment. Those that do not possess the basic computing skills may become unemployable soon, even in the most trivial of jobs. We are living in an age in which a child who does not have basic computing skills is at an immediate disadvantage. Zimbabwe boasts of the highest literacy rate in Africa measuring at 92% of people aged 15 and above as of 2009. However it is worth noting that Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read and write. The computer literacy figures are considerably lower than 92% considering the 92% encompasses some people who have never used a computer before but are able to read and write.
The spread of education in science and technology can be the key to Zimbabwe’s future economic independence and prosperity. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) can bring to Zimbabwe, better education, better health care, economic development and a more transparent governance model. Those are four things you want in any country independent of the state of their local economy. You don’t want to give society clean water but then say you can’t have access to knowledge, education or economic development. If you do that you are sentencing the next generation to living in poverty. Research has also proven that a 10% increase in ICT penetration would increase a country’s gross domestic (GDP) by an average 1.4%. The installation of the undersea cable that connects Zimbabwe to the rest of the world through Mozambique is progress toward the growth of ICT. By improving Internet access, Zimbabweans will gain access to the most important commodity in the modern world: information.
Thanks to ICT the days when one’s fate was decided by the accident of the birthplace are thankfully numbered. Disappearing is the world in which people were labelled according to which side of an invisible line they were born, which determined whether they were haves or have-nots, or whether they had access to services such as freedom of travel, education or healthcare. It is time that the notion that someone’s chances are shaped by the place where he/she was born is laid to rest forever. ICT can bridge the gap between a rich and a disadvantaged student in as far as education is concerned. It is of paramount importance that all Zimbabwean children receive an education leading to computer literacy. Whether these children reside in the rural areas, townships, high density suburbs or low density suburbs in the towns/cities a platform needs to be created to empower these children with computer literacy. By empowering local Zimbabweans with the tools to chart into their own future, Zimbabwe will blaze its own unique trail of innovation.
In this attempt to introduce the masses to computer technology, it is vital that high value is placed on skills transfer. Teachers who are not computer literate need to be educated first so they may transfer the knowledge to their students. A plan needs to be put into action for schools that do not have computing facilities. Students need to be able to access computing facilities every day. It is also important that students are exposed to computing facilities at an early age, about the time they will be enrolling for grade one. It is easier to learn computing material at this time as students are still eager and not embarrassed by their lack of a necessary skill.
The gap between those empowered by technology and those who have been excluded must not widen. The only thing that needs to be broadened is the thinking of those who believe technology is for the privileged few. The Zimbabwe government can either facilitate or hold it back. I hope they move forward and work in concert to roll out technology as widely as possible for the future of our nation. No nation can prevent embracing the information age if it’s to become aggressive inside the international arena.