Rural Botswana Goes Online
At several places in rural Botswana, digital citizenship and participation is becoming more and more tangible through an ambitious national development initiative. With the so-called Kitsong Centres, Botswana has mobilised a project for the establishment of information centres equipped with a broad range of digital services across the country, including access to local and community information; eGovernment offerings such as requesting birth certificates , passport applications and school registration; as well as access to distance learning facilities. At the moment 25 centres are functional - most of them in post offices - and an additional 25 centres are being set up. Leatile Nthaga, an IT consultant from the Botswana Technology Centre (BOTEC), will show how learners can be optimally supported at such a Kitsong Centre.
QUeLA: What are the main challenges to be addressed in your centre or in the others you know?
According to studies done by BOTEC, computer illiteracy in rural communities is one of the inhibiting factors delaying the uptake of computer services. To intercede with dedicated trainings, though, is the main future objective. The fact that the patrons of these centres are young people up to 40 years of age shows the need of bringing the adult community onboard. Another task is to address and to invite women to actively participate in the field of ICT. Female patrons running such a facility, for example, are generally fewer compared to male patrons, though they make up the majority of the population in the rural villages.
QUeLA: What role does eLearning play in your centre? How many people use it and for what purposes?
The Kitsong Centre in the village of Sikwane is used mainly by students of institutions of higher education. These are the University of Botswana and the Limkokwing University of Technology. Members of the public use it for research and communication over the Internet. Since these are public facilities, there is no particular eLearning programme that is run by the centre. Patrons use it to access eLearning materials offered by other institutions. Some use it to access accounting programmes, like AAT, run by other institutions.
QUeLA: About half the number of the intended Kitsong Centres have opened in the last few years. What would you say are the basic findings and achievements so far?
I think the project has been able to mobilise a significant number of people in villages to use the centres, and these numbers continue to grow. On the one hand, the communities have been sensitised about the value of ICT services to improve their lives and business activities. On the other hand, the Kitsong initiative enhanced the awareness of various corporate stakeholders about the potential benefits of ICT to rural communities and how they could be used to enhance service delivery in those places. And it also gave clear indicators about the need for additional sensitisation or training of the communities still needed in order to appreciate ICT applications.
QUeLA: Where is the future of the Kitsong Centres going?
It is evident that there are growing information needs in the rural areas. Therefore, the Ministry of Communications, Science and Technology has now started rolling out the Kitsong Centres throughout Botswana. These centres have been made part of the Botswana Postal Services (BPS). However, as BPS has 113 offices and only 25 Kitsong Centres have opened their doors so far, much potential is left to drive the initiative forward. The most salient needs I see are to offer trainings for ICT usage as well as making more local content available in each village.