Connecting Africa is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 3099067.

Digital Inclusion

Research Bites: Why ICT public access centers are struggling

Article Image
This article is part of a series in collaboration with the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development

The global COVID-19 pandemic has created a heightened sense of awareness of the inequalities that prevail in society and access to real-time information delivered via the Internet has become critical for survival.

However, the reality of Africa's digital divide means that some citizens, especially those in far flung rural areas, have been left behind. In South Africa, for example, only about 12% of households enjoy the luxury of Internet access at home.

The rollout of public access centers (PACs) – also known as telecentres – should be an important digital divide eradication strategy. These facilities are built by governments to provide Internet connectivity and computing resources to marginalized communities to try and tackle the digital divide.

Despite many programs by both governments and non-government organization (NGOs), the evidence of success across the continent is limited and there have actually been widespread reports of failure when it comes to sustainability of these centers.

The problem with public center deployments in rural communities has always been the lack of a sustainable operational model and the inability to significantly transform the communities they serve. This can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the context in which marginalized communities adopt technology.

Rural ICT adoption

Given the problem, we decided that it was important to investigate the factors that influence information and communications technology (ICT) adoption in a typical rural public access center setting. The key question was how the public access center model can be strengthened to improve the adoption and uptake of ICTs?

The study was conducted in a small rural town called Barkly West in South Africa's Northern Cape province. The rationale for selecting Barkly West as a case to investigate was because it represented a poorly resourced South African community in which issues of access and adoption were prevalent and affected mostly young people.

Qualitative data was collected via focus groups of both users and non-users of a government PAC in the rural town.

A range of economic, political, educational, infrastructure, cultural, organizational and other factors were identified as important factors which influence whether people in rural communities will make effective use of public ICTs to improve their lives.

Motivation for skills development

Given the limited opportunities the small town has to offer, respondents considered the center a place to seek opportunities in the wider environment. Employment and self-development were two key motivational drivers that drew people to the center and there seemed to be a general view from participants that it was important to improve themselves by acquiring knowledge through ICT.

We also found that friends and family, educators and experienced individuals could have an influence on whether or not people in the community use the PAC. Educators could substantially influence decision makers to adopt ICTs at a school level.

However, the lack of digital skills was also a negative influencer in some cases. If community members believed there was no opportunity to learn to use the computers at the center they would simply shun it, from the very outset, even if they were aware of the possible personal development drivers.

Creating inclusive spaces

One of the key issues that came out of the study was the inclusion of marginalized people in the design of social and economic services and the lack of training and outreach in the community.

The findings have shown that the low adoption of ICTs can be attributed to the lack of resources and the way in which the center is administered and managed. A common view among respondents for not using ICTs at the center had to do with non-exposure to computers.

Alleged corruption within the community has also led to resources being controlled by a select group of people who have hired people without the relevant skills to work in the center. Respondents expressed their frustration that PAC staff had no knowledge of ICTs which exacerbated their ability to access the center's resources.

The lack of quality of service by staff at the centers discouraged a lot of the community from entering. This has also resulted in poor maintenance of the center and its equipment as some respondents claim there were only five working computers left at the center. In addition, perceptions of poor maintenance are also attributed to corruption among public officials.

The road ahead

While the use and uptake of ICTs are considered powerful tools in facilitating poverty reduction and empowering citizens with choices for their own development, our findings indicate that a community-centered approach is important to ensure success.

The major issue that has dominated the findings of this study is concerned with support being provided for the use of ICTs at the center. The evidence also shows that rural communities require better skills training in order to fully engage with ICTs.

Unfortunately, the lack of support from the local PAC, and by implication local government, has influenced the low level of adoption and interest.

To read more about this research, you can access the full academic research paper published in the African Journal of Science, Technology, Innovation and Development .

Related posts:

*Top image source: Technology photo created by prostooleh - www.freepik.com.

Cecilia Frans, and Shaun Pather

Innovation hub

Story

Africa can leverage GenAI for economic growth – Microsoft

A whitepaper on generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) and the future of work has found that the African continent, with its young population, can leverage AI to drive economic growth.

Registration opens for Africa Tech Festival 2024

Registration has opened for the 2024 edition of Africa Tech Festival, the continent's leading platform for technology innovators, specialists and thought leaders.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Sponsored video

More videos

Follow us on X

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Upcoming events

Cyber Revolution Summit
August 9, 2024
Gaborone, Botswana
Africa Tech Festival 2024
November 11-14, 2024
Cape Town, South Africa
More Upcoming events

Africa Tech Perspectives

Story

Uber's Marjorie Saint-Lot on inclusion and sustainability in Africa

Uber's Country Manager for Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, Marjorie Saint-Lot, shares how the ride-hailing company is approaching public-private partnerships, environmentally friendly initiatives and gender inclusion in Africa.

Story

The 100 most influential African leaders in 2023

A new report from Africa Tech Festival and Connecting Africa puts a spotlight on the top 100 African leaders in the telecoms and technology sector in 2023.

Story

Deep dive into East Africa's tech startup ecosystem

New survey reveals a lack of access to investors, reliance on international VCs and global recession trends as the biggest barriers for East African tech startups to access funds.

More Africa Tech perspectives

Guest Perspectives

Story

How e-mobility could transform Africa's transport sector

By Francis Hook

ICT analyst Francis Hook delves into Africa's e-mobility sector and unpacks the challenges faced locally and the benefits the move to electric vehicles could bring to urban transport systems.

Story

Omdia View: April 2024

By Omdia Analysts

April 2024's telecoms highlights in the Middle East and Africa included a license for Starlink in Ghana, new mobile termination rates in Ethiopia, and 6G trials in Bahrain – that and more in the latest Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up


Sign Up
Tag id test-002