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The Big Blue - Taking ICTs to Rural Youths Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by charlton c tsodzo, Zimbabwe Mar 30, 2005
Technology   Opinions


In an era in which revolutions in Information and Communication Technologies--including the internet--have brought about social, economic and political interconnectedness in the world, rural areas in developing countries continue to find themselves marginalized because of connectivity problems.

For the average computer-literate person in an urban area, any other end of the world is only a mouse click away. But people in rural areas have nearly no access to computers and worse still, no internet access because of an absence of electricity and telecommunication networks. Knowledge and information have become so pivotal to socio-economic and even political development including health, equity, education, as well as the overall attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The current scenarios in rural areas can only be described as unfortunate. The situation is even worse for young people in rural areas, who would be growing into a fast-globalizing world without the necessary relevant skills and compliancy to the new world order.

World Links Zimbabwe is a member of the global WorldLinks family of organizations aiming to improve educational outcomes, economic opportunities, and global understanding for youth through the use of information technology. It came up with this unique and exciting innovation, the Big Blue. Appreciating the value of information and knowledge networks in meeting development challenges such as poverty, education and health, WorldLinks embarked on the project as an entry point into building consensus on the value of ICTs for development. Strategically focusing on youth also implied a foresight on the part of the project in wanting to build sustainable appreciation of ICTs as a development gateway for the future.

The Big Blue is literally a big blue Renault truck converted into a mobile van that provides ICT resources to rural areas and growth points around the country. It was designed in 2001 to promote the use of ICTs in rural schools that are not able to afford the purchase of computer hardware and software. It is a multipurpose teaching and learning facility equipped with modern ICT tools. Among its equipment are a TV/VCR, video projection unit, ten computers and a server, Internet access, an educational video library, laser jet printer and self-contained electrical power. The Big Blue mobile van can be configured to become a mobile Internet classroom, a high-powered computer demonstration unit, an ICT training facility, a video-based learning unit, a community learning base as well as an education press facility.

So much of an impact has the Big Blue concept made that it was nominated for the prestigious 2001 Stockholm Challenge award for its innovative use of ICT around the world. Now with the strategic partnership WorldLinks Zimbabwe has made with the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture in Zimbabwe (which itself is on a drive to introduce ICTs to all schools), what else could there be but a mini-information revolution on its way in rural Zimbabwe?

Equipping young people in schools with ICT skills and know-how (including that of the internet) falls in line with the country’s targets for MDG 8 on Developing a Global Partnership for Development. The work being done by WorldLinks Zimbabwe is also very strategic in terms of nurturing awareness and consciousness around health, equity and other socio-economic competencies important for meeting the MDGs. The facility is even being made available for out-of school youths through multipurpose community telecenters whose establishment is also being facilitated by WorldLinks. There is no better investment into a knowledgeable and informed future generation.

Only if there could be further commitment from other development partners like the government, NGOs and private sector to enhance support for such a noble initiative, ICTs could be set to become accessible and convenient tools toward sustainable development in the country. An ICT and development model could even emerge out of such an initiative and be replicated in other countries in the region, certainly making our progression towards the MDGs a lot smoother in Southern Africa.



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