Senin, 12 Desember 2011

Computer literacy is a ticket out of poverty

by Club Asteria

Both in the United States and abroad, in economically mature countries and poor or “emerging” nations, there’s one constant you can count on: Computer literacy helps to lift people out of poverty. The Internet economy has broken down barriers and borders, for the first time making it realistic for somebody in rural Thailand, in Kolkata India, or even in sub-Saharan Africa to begin the path towards self-sufficiency. Because of the available technology, it’s possible for the first time to realistically work at home in your own cottage industry, and more people are doing that every day. It’s no longer a pipe dream—it’s realistic, and the technology is here to make it happen.

The challenge of course, is to get computers in the hands of the world’s poorest people, to provide Internet access and electricity to rural villages, and to educate them on how to use the technology to their benefit. It’s already happening, on all fronts. Thailand’s well-regarded rural distance learning program pipes in first-class education to the most remote villages in the country, from the “King’s School” in HuaHin—the best school in the country. Satellite Internet access provides coverage to nearly all of Southeast Asia, no matter how remote. In India, even the poorest citizens have been able to get computer literate, and go into business providing services on a telecommuting basis to Western countries.

The innovative “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) program even has a solution to help get computers into the hands of young people in poor villages. This program isn’t just about providing computers to people—it’s about alleviating poverty. It’s about giving children a skill that they can use the rest of their lives. The goal of OLPC is to create very inexpensive, minimally configured laptops, which can even be used in a village with no electricity (remarkably, it’s powered by a hand crank). Thailand was actually the first country to sign up with the program, and Nigeria has also made great strides with it. Rwanda has made a commitment to provide laptops to all school children. At Club Asteria our goal for 2011-2012 is to donate 10,000 computers/smart phones to some of the most poverty stricken areas of the world.

There’s no disputing that technology is the key. When Nehru established the Indian Institute of Technology, India was deep in poverty. There’s no doubt that poverty is still rampant there, but India has made great strides—and it’s largely due to the country’s focus on developing a framework for technological education. What has become known as the “Asian miracle” can be replicated around the world.

Micro-finance/micro-credit has a role to play in establishing this technological base. While it’s up to NGOs like OLPC, and local governments, to provide the framework and the educational infrastructure, microfinance can actually give poor people the tools they need to become self-sufficient. At Club Asteria we have introduced our own entrepreneurial education program. Our goal is to provide educational material in 2011-2012 to over 1 million people. We have also set a goal of distributing over 5,000 micro-loans during the same period to once again the most poverty stricken regions of the world.

Take the case of a teenager from a poor family in Delhi. Through hands-on learning and some low-cost direct training, he has become very proficient at web site design, and he’s quickly discovered he has a talent for graphic arts. He’s already created the web site for his school, which has become widely recognized as one of the best school web sites in the country. But until recently, he has always relied on using computers at the school, or even paying to use the local Internet café. A small microfinance loan enabled him to buy a low-cost laptop and Internet service at home—and how he’s building web sites for schools and small businesses all over India. This small, home-based business has turned around his own life and the lives of his parents and siblings, and he’s just received some very good news. He’s been accepted to attend the Indian Institute of Technology, and because of his work, he will be able to afford to put himself through school.

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