May 2, 2001
Much like the ant that attempted to move the rubber tree plant, President Bharrat Jagdeo's proposal to make the Internet accessible throughout the country, at first glance, seems to be nothing but "high apple pie in the sky hopes".
But think of Guyana's geography and the remoteness of some communities, and the proposal takes on visionary proportions. And it is not impossible, nor is it a unique idea. Already, the Rupununi Weavers Society, operating in one of the country's most remote regions, sells its hammocks in Europe and North America via the Internet.
Guyana has requested from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) US$50 million for a project for the development of information technology (IT) and to establish 100 internet centres around the country and a computer for every school. This would entail putting the necessary infrastructure in place first, that is ensuring that each community earmarked for an Internet centre has electricity and telephone lines. Technical people would need to be employed to teach the use of the equipment and for maintenance purposes. Over time, these skills could be passed on to residents of the communities.
In Jamaica, where a similar project is under active consideration, the level of skills available in both government and the private sector is far more extensive than it is here. What may make more sense here is an interim programme to develop the necessary physical infrastructure and train the personnel as the IDB has suggested.
Countrywide Internet access would reduce the impact of the dearth of textbooks and research material. Large amounts of information can be downloaded from the Internet and shared among students. It would also obviate the need for students from far-flung areas to travel to the city to do their research.
Another definite plus would be the advancement of distance education, where lessons could be sent to students via email and vice versa. And while one computer per school would be woefully inadequate, once the necessary infrastructure is put in place, appeals could be made to Guyanese abroad who wish to give back to their communities, to donate others.
The President's idea is a good one in principle but it may have to be tackled in stages. It may also be useful to contact the Simputer Trust in India for possible help. Scientists there have developed a computing device that has easy to use applications aimed at country people including voicemail, text-to-speech capabilities and internet access. Illiterate farmers, for example, can get to know the current prices of crops by using symbols and speech software.
The ant managed to move not just one rubber tree plant, but many others. Ants never work alone; if they're involved in a project, the whole colony works together to get it done. The proposed Internet project will ultimately benefit all. As the Chinese proverb says: 'If you are thinking one year ahead, plant rice. If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant trees. If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate the people.'