Posted by: sgb on May 17, 2010
Today, 17th May is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day as designated by the United Nations General Assembly. This day is cosen as it marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union
The theme for this year is 'Better Cities, better life, with ICTs.
South Africa's experience with ICT for public improvement has shown a lot of promise, though little fulfillment. There is the 'control it all' syndrome evident in Telkom for years and still evident in the government's initial attempt to own the deepsea broadband cable, there is the abortive contract for the 'Home Affairs 'Who am I' system currently being investigated amidst major allegations of fraud, there is the ongoing saga at SABC board level, there is the rollout of digital TV which has been postponed numerous times, there is the debacle around set top decoders for digital TV initially specified to have interactive abilities (essentially an 'internet') but not yet specified.
And finally, in a country with 12% internet access there is the foolhardy attempt to control all World Cup soccer tickets over the internet. This saga continues with warnings over the weekend that people buying tickets (or re-selling) tickets through unauthorised dealers would be barred from games. The list of authorised dealers - on the internet of course.
While the uses of ICT are broad (how wide is wide), they can basically be listed in 4 dimensions - education, communication, entertainment, and business. Normally these four dimensions overlap in numerous ways but I will concentrate here on only one aspect - education.
ICT in Education
Reports, and more recently the government has admitted that education in South Africa is a poor. There are too few teachers, there are too many not properly equipped to teach the sylabusses, there is too little infrastructure supporting these teachers.
With South Africa creating a common sylabus over all provinces the potential of ICT is immense. Common lessons can be developed and shared, over the net (live), through ad hoc downloads from 'ICT centres' or even on disc. Common (homework) assignments or projects could be created, again could be live, or downloaded. Answers, marks could be compared across all schools, areas, to instantly provide areas of focus, both geographic or content.
ICT centres could be established at community halls, libraries, schools. At present it is recognised that many schools do not even have a libraryand this could cost R2b to rectify. Possible ICT access is a complementary answer. The cellular companies are busy putting in fibre across the country. Between them and Telkom, the government would surely find many partners to help develop an infrastructure to all but the most remote areas. And even these areas could be covered wirelessly, the price of joining government in this initiative.
Unfortunately security is a problem. There have been too many cases of schools receiving PCs only yo have them stolen. This again would require government private partnerships BUT the partnerships must be accountable.
It can be done. It must be done. When we see the focus on education in countries like South Korea, China, we realise just why these countries can prosper as they are doing. We have seen a major investmentin infrastructure (thanks to the World Cup, and unfortunately driven by the need for tourists),
we now need to see an equivalent investment on the people of the country, through education.