THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

In summer 2003 I travelled out to Tanzania to train the staff of a secondary school on the slopes of Kilimanjaro in the use of computers. I had stayed there for a month in 1999 and had helped set up an IT lab with PCs donated by schools and small businesses in Cumbria. Although their intentions were good, the machines they donated were not. We did the best we could with seriously outdated machines but we knew at the time that they would probably not last long. We were, unfortunately, correct.
By the time I visited in 2003 the machines had been removed from the lab and put into storage, where they had been since 2001. On hearing that I was coming the headmaster of the school had instructed that the PCs be put back in the laboratory so that I could train staff. Out of the 25 PCs not one was in working order. Several had been destroyed by the damp air during the rainy season and several had made cosy nesting places for families of mice. The headmaster was somewhat disappointed to learn that computers with small animals living inside were unlikely to be of much use.
Luckily I had brought a laptop with me and I spent the next two months giving basic training to the staff and some of the students of the school.
What struck me was the complete lack of even rudimentary experience that the staff had. I was also surprised to learn that, increasingly, paid employment in the region was only available to those who could demonstrate knowledge of IT. I had imagined that in a predominately rural country such as Tanzania there would be no pressing need for computers but I was wrong.
Since returning from Tanzania I have been involved in setting up a small charity called Global Development Links (GDL), based at the University of East London, that provides NGOs in developing countries with resources. After meeting with a local NGO in a rural district near Moshi we have decided to embark on a major project to set up PC labs at four different schools in the area. This summer we will be sending out over 60 PCs and various others bits of IT equipment, along with volunteers to train school staff, with the aim of integrating IT lessons into the curricula of the participating schools. We have a fundraising target of £4,000 which will pay for shipping and equipment (including generators that will prevent the PCs being damaged by the area’s frequent power cuts) and we are already half way there thanks to a sponsored bike ride from London to Paris which raised over £2,000.
The number of computers available in the UK without cost is incalculable – businesses and educational institutions are forever renewing their machines. GDL is hoping that in the next 5 years we can provide over a hundred schools around Tanzania with working PC labs and help bridge the ‘Digital Divide’.
We would very much welcome any contributions from TA readers towards the work of GDL. Our address is: Global Development Links, Royal Docks Business Centre, 4 University Way, London E16 2RD. Cheques should be made payable to GDL.
Dan Quille

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