ICTs' a world of change

By Nana Appiah Acquiaye, Accra, Ghana

ICTs are making a world of difference to city dwellers in Ghana. But the rural areas have yet to see the benefits. With plans afoot to roll out community ICT centres across the country, I went to meet teenagers in very diverse circumstances, to see if ICTs really make a difference in their lives.

Accra gets on to the information superhighway

Urbanisation in Ghana has really become a blessing for the few who daily enjoy the comfort and luxury it brings.

Ghana’ s city dwellers don’ t have to worry much about the very basic of necessities - like water, food and shelter, and have all the social amenities that makes living in these centers pleasant and stress free.

The introduction of ICTs in urban areas has not only brought up tremendous gains to industry players, but also caused change in all spectrums of our national economy. And ordinary citizens are benefiting too.

A walk through the streets of the capital city, Accra, shows how far the country has reach in terms of ICT development.

Everywhere there are advertisements for the fastest, reliable internet connectivity ever in the West Africa sub region from the numerous Internet Service Providers. New entrants like Main One Cable offer open access, whole sales broadband capacity in Ghana ranging from 45Mbps through to an STM (ie 155Mbps) or STM16 (ie 2.488Gbps). Higher band width capacity of up to 10Gbps will be also available soon, we hear.

The telecommunication giants like MTN,Tigo, Airtel, Vodafone and Expresso have made life in the city exciting, with a variety of promotions and offers of “ unbeatable services” .

At just about every corner you pass in Accra you will find an internet café , with lots of youths surfing the net, some checking their e-mails, others blogging.  

Schoolchildren and teachers in the three major cities - Accra, Kumasi and Takoradi – have computers and internet access at their schools and in their homes.

Hello, world!

Nana Kojo Prempeh lives with his parents in a suburb of Accra called Dansoman, where he is in sixth grade at the Grace Preparatory School. His family owns a slightly used Dell Desk top computer with an MTN internet modem.

At home, Nana Kojo has been taught how to operate the computer. I watched as he expertly switched on the machine. After waiting for some seconds, he activated the MTN modem icon and within minutes, the two of us were surfing the Internet.

Like most kids his age, Nana Kojo has a Facebook account, so his first stop was the social networking site. He pulled the keyboard closer to him and typed in his e-mail ID and password. Again, with just a click, again his face was beaming with smiles as he watched his Facebook page open. Lots of new comments on the page posted by friends and loved ones, including some from his class teachers. Nana Kojo showed me a picture of one teacher, Madam Agyeiwaa Ansah.

My little friend told me how he had been assisted by his teacher, who uses a brand new Toshiba laptop computer at school. Nana Kojo told me he has been taught how to use the computer and the internet to do research and homework by both his parents and teachers. No wonder Nana Kojo Prempeh can smile with confidence when using the family PC at home.

A world with no connection

In contrast, in the rural northern belt of Ghana lies Buipe, a deprived farming community with poor educational facilities and no ICT infrastructure.

I met 16 year old Fawzia Sulemana, who wants to become a medical doctor one day. A pupil at a local junior high school, she takes her lessons very seriously.

But Fawzia doesn’ t know anything about modern ICTs. The only computer she has ever seen was gathering dust on the desk of the school headmaster. She has never used a mobile phone, only heard about them on the small radio her family owns.

I wondered how on earth this rural girl could achieve her aim of becoming a doctor if she has never used any ICTs or seen the internet.
Fawzia pulled close to me at the village community centre to find out what I was doing on my laptop, she asked what that was and I told her it is called a laptop computer. Then she ask again what is it used for and what I was doing on it? I was very astounded, but I tried explaining to her in simple and clear terms what the computer is and what is used for.

If the rural children know nothing about ICTs, it is even more alarming that teachers are themselves ignorant about the transformation power of ICTs.

Taking ICT to the people

When I look at the disparities, that I welcome the government initiative to assist deprived communities within the country with ICT infrastructure. One of these is the Ghana Investment Fund for Electrical Communication (GIFEC) project, under which the Government of Ghana will be providing 6 000 computers and extend internet service to security services and schools in deprived communities before the end of 2011.

The project will be funded from the one per cent net profit telecommunication companies will pay to GIFEC.

The  GIFEC was established in 2004 as an implementing agency of the Ministry of Communication to facilitate the spread of ICT use in rural Ghana, promote research and reading centers, train rural school children and teachers in the use of ICT and empower rural communities direct participation in the development and decision – making processes at local; and national level.

GIFEC achievements within the past two years were the provision of ICT facilities for 38 teachers training colleges and 65 vocational and technical institutions nationwide.

Currently GIFEC is working with the Ghana Post Company Limited to establish ICT centers in some 350 post offices throughout the countryto help bridge the ICT gap between rural and urban areas.

So far work has started on 15 post offices in the Greater Accra, Central, Western, Volta, Brong Ahafo and the three Northern Regions of Ghana which falls under the phase one of the project.

The Administrator of the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communication, Kofi Attor disclosed this to Biztechafrica.com at a five day programme held by GIFEC in close collaboration with the Ghana-Kofi Annan center of Excellence in ICT for 25 members of the Council of State in Accra.

According to him, GIFEC is also erecting telecom towers in rural communities and promoting collaboration among telecommunication companies to facilitate quality telecom service in the rural areas.

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