Digital Literacy: A Necessity!
In my previous story I talked about the challenges that women face in having access to the Internet. I have also discovered that training is equally important for people to have access to the Internet because it creates enthusiasm and confidence for utilization of technology. Some time back while I was still conducting Junior Node Camps, where we trained teenage students in basic ICT and Internet skills, the enthusiasm of these students grew in just two weeks of training and eventually they became ICT gurus.
Training does not necessarily need to be complicated and one does not need to become an ICT guru to utilize the Internet effectively. One of the phrases I always used in training was “teach people how to use ICTs in a way that will affect their lives, and make it practical in their day-to-day worlds so that it becomes meaningful to them”. This training may be basic - say how to surf, how to get online, how to create an e-mail account, how to turn on a computer and so on and so forth - things that many of us who live with ICT may take for granted, yet are such a life-changer for others.
In utilization of the Internet, I think it is important to have access to affordable and fast Internet connectivity. I said this in my previous story and I believe it is what we need. We also need to be able to have access via our phones, in the comfort of our homes, in the villages where most of us live or where most of our families live. As an ICT practitioner, I need to have access to fast Internet connectivity because creativity and productivity are stifled by slow Internet. How can young people join the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) field and explore job creation opportunities without fast and reliable Internet connectivity? How can we be competitive?
Other key challenges I see in accessing the Internet are related to language, education levels and lack of self-esteem. Language becomes a barrier because most of the languages used on the Internet are foreign and thus do not cater to many African or developing country languages. Translation can be a challenge - however if more communities were empowered to become leaders and innovators then individual communities could take individual or joint efforts for translation. In Uganda, students have translated Mozilla Firefox into the three main local Ugandan languages, which is a step in the right direction and an innovative way of addressing this challenge.
The second challenge is education. Often, marginalized communities, especially women, think that computers and the Internet is only for the educated or is the “man’s world”. These beliefs often prevent marginalized communities from accessing ICT skills training, when available, or from gaining a basic understanding of what is published on the Internet. The results are that marginalized communities become further marginalized, with increased inequality in the ability to access opportunity. This all results in a lack of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-reliance.
My main motivation to overcoming these barriers is having the self-drive and commitment within myself to learn. Actually I have learned a lot from the Internet, including learning more about information and communication technologies themselves. Once I discovered the power of the Internet, I have used it as my “bible” and through the learning that I have benefited from, I have helped to train a number of people about digital use - some intentionally and others through my interactions and spirit of sharing of information.
I have trained young girls and boys through ICT camps, women and men through online collaboration, and members of rural communities, such as Kalangala District in the Ssese Islands, as well as the fishermen on whom their families depend. These last two experiences were my biggest challenge and it helped me identify the needs of rural communities and how people could integrate ICT into their non-digital livelihoods. Today, I share my knowledge with fellow staff and I am also training young university graduates and community participants in the utilization of the Internet and how to integrate ICT into their daily lives - not the least to achieve their employment and entrepreneurship goals.
The dialogue is shifting from the challenges to the benefits and opportunities.