There was a flurry of debate after TMS Ruge's speech at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, which included fair criticism of the popular One Laptop Per Child initiative. Key to this debate was an issue that I am finding equally as relevant in my new job: technological innovations are not enough in information and communication technology for development (ICT4D). One also needs approaches that effectively teach the use of a computer or the Internet to actually add any value to these innovations.
The organization I have recently started working with in Northern Uganda is facing similar challenges. Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach (BOSCO)-Uganda is providing a fast wireless internet system that runs on solar powered batteries to former internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.
The main goal is to use this technology to help “break the silence” in Northern Uganda by providing an avenue for former IDP camps to interact, as well as a means to talk about the war and other issues on a local and international level. Having locally generated content added to the plethora of Western-centric writing about Northern Uganda would both be refreshing and important in the “digital ethnography” of the war.
However, getting people interested in the Internet is not self-evident. While the above are strong ideas and are definitely necessary in the long-run, there needs to be an intermediary before people are interested in creating content not directly pertinent to making ends meet.
Some research online reveals that this intermediary may be teaching rural farmers, for example, on how to access information about pests, fertilizers and weather. While teaching the Internet, there would also be a income-generating component that would encourage further use and exploration of the Internet.
I should be doing some field research at BOSCO's Internet sites in the near future to get an idea of what other “intermediaries” might be used in Northern Uganda. In the meantime, here's a call to international readers: in your country, how could you teach the Internet in a way that provides users, indirectly, with increased income?