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 -

Cecilia Frans, and Shaun Pather

Innovation hub


Interview: Qualcomm execs on mentorship for African startups

Qualcomm Technology VP for Engineering, Sudeepto Roy, and Elizabeth Migwalla, VP for Government Affairs, join Connecting Africa for a video interview about Qualcomm's Make in Africa Mentorship Program.


Hot startup of the month: Pan-African fintech KamaPay

This month's hot startup is pan-African fintech KamaPay, which helps individuals and businesses make cross-border payments on the continent.

More Innovation hub

Latest video

More videos

Sponsored video

More videos

Industry announcements

More Industry announcements

Flash poll

All polls

Africa Tech Perspectives


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.


Challenges and opportunities for women's tech careers

A new survey reveals that COVID-19, the cost-of-living crisis, skills shortages and a lack of mentorship have negatively affected women's career development over the past two years.


Survey: Opportunities for Women in Tech

Take our new survey for women across Asia, Europe and Africa looking at the biggest challenges and opportunities for women-led enterprises and trends in tech careers for women.

More AfricaCom perspectives

Upcoming events

London Tech Week
June 13-16, 2023
Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Broad Sanctuary, London SW1P 3EE
Cybertech Africa 2023
August 1-2, 2023
Kigali Convention Center, Kigali, Rwanda
Africa Tech Festival, Home of AfricaCom and AfricaTech
November 13-16, 2023
CTICC, Cape Town
More Upcoming events

Guest Perspectives


Omdia View: February 2023

By Omdia Analysts

In February 2023 key events in the Middle East and Africa included a major Internet project for Africa's underserved by Liquid Intelligent Technologies and Microsoft as well as a 5G launch in Tanzania – that and more in this month's Omdia View.


Omdia View: July 2022

By Omdia Analysts

Kenya and Zambia move towards 5G with new spectrum allocations while Tunisie Telecom plans to shut down its 3G network - that and more in this month's Omdia View.

More Guest Perspectives

Partner perspectives

All Partner Perspectives

Like us on Facebook

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign Up