ICT access: Worthwhile investment or waste of money?

July 24, 2007 at 11:51 am 1 comment

According to Naomi Halewood and Charles Kenny, consultants to the World Bank, young people are most likely to adopt new technology – be it IT or communication technology. This view was confirmed by a study they conducted on the use of ICTs by young people in developing countries.

The main goal of the study was to discuss  youth access to and use of ICTs, opportunities presented by ICTs that might be particularly advantageous to young people, and suggest policy reforms that might maximise that benefit in developing countries.

Given the amount of media exposure and publicity being given to ICT development to Sri Lanka, it is worth asking whether ICT development can, and is having a significant impact on alleviating poverty conditions and contributing to the development of the country. While this study doesn’t look at the Sri Lankan context, per say, it can give us an idea of how successful other ICT projects have been – and what can be done to make it better.

Here is a summary of the main findings reported in the study:

1. How many young people use ICTs, and where do you they use them?

  •  Access to broadcast technologies (Television and radio) and telephony have been considerably more widespread than  access to the Internet. E.g. 80% of the population of the developing world listen to the radio at least once a week compared to computer penetration of 47 per 1000 people or 0.047%
  • The extent of Internet access and use differs widely between countries such as Chile and Sub-Saharan Africa. 62% of schools in Chile are online compared to only 7% in a sample of 8 countries in the Sub-Saharan African region.
  • The means of Internet usage differ between countries; while most have access through the use of a computer, a survey in China shows a considerable number of young people surf the Internet via a mobile phone.
  • Despite availability of public Internet access points in some countries, not many made use of them.

2. What do young people use ICTs for?

  • Primary usage of:
    •  Telephones – for contact between relatives and for emergencies
    • Broadcast technology – entertainment, with a secondary role for news on prices and services
    • The Internet – Check mail with a secondary role of finding information

3. ICT as a means for youth job creation and income generation

  • A number of young people are involved in selling scratchcards and time on phones
  • Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is a big source of employment for people in India.
  • Programming and entrepreneurial sales activities through the Net

4. ICT as a resource for learning and education

  • Broadcast media have been use to communicate educational messages for older audiences on subjects such as HIV awareness and the like.
  • Sustainability of Internet access in school is a problem given the high cost per student per year of maintaining a computer lab

5. Political, social and cultural impacts of ICTs

  • ICTs are powerful tools for youth empowerment as one survey reports, with regular Internet users more likely to be involved in political campaigns, boycotts and petitions.
  • Negative social and cultural impact of ICTs include a preference for buying clothes as seen in music video, greater drug use , alcohol consumption and a greater prevalence of youth violence as seen on television.

6. Policy Conclusions

  • Despite social concerns, it appears ICT access and use can do a lot more good than harm. Hence appropriate policy prescriptions (private competition and regulation) should be in place in order to bring about further development in LDCs
  • Youth-centred policies should focus on ICTs access in schools, incorporating it into the curriculum and effective and appropriate training being given to teachers.
  • Efforts to curtail harmful content access on the Net could include ways to correctly verify the age of those seeking access to pornographic content and to develop content rating systems similar to movies.

So I guess the study answers our original question: improvement in ICT access and use is a worthwhile investment in the short and long run. However, what this study fails to identify is concrete data that shows how the improvement in ICT access has had on the actual living standards/salaries earned by those who use them. It seems only time will tell.


Entry filed under: Development Economics, ICT.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Idetrorce  |  December 15, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you


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