Digital Divide Expanding to Become a Valley
An observation on PNG’s middle to upper class Vs the socially and economically excluded.
The new found vibrancy in the Papua New Guinea (PNG) economy is spurring on an increase in the blue and white collar workers and an increase in wages isn’t only expanding the economic divide between those in the formal and informal sectors. It is also creating a gaping wedge between those in towns and those in the rural areas with a growth in the uptake of computers, laptops, smart phones and mobile devices for households in urban centres. It can only become worse when the LNG income start flowing into PNG around 2015 with wage inflation set to pick up a few more paces giving greater buying power to the ever increasing middle class of blue and white collar workers to afford and amass computers, laptops, e-readers, smart phones and other electronic gadgets of convenience, knowledge accumulation and doing business. On the other hand, the rural populace will be stuck in a time warp because it will take generations for the trickle down effects of an expanded economy through improved schools and better income generation opportunities.
Unless those in rural areas understand how to use computers and appreciate the value of owning and using one of them the digital divide currently taking off will create an even bigger social exclusion gap for those in the rural areas of Papua New Guinea.
The adults may be taught computer and internet literacy and the inherent benefits of owning or having access to these resources; however, their learning and development curves have peaked out with the anticipated outcome of bridging the digital divide through this generation of adults limited. A major development in bridging the digital divide can only be generational by rolling out universal education to all (public) schools from primary to secondary and tertiary institutions for the next generation of Papua New Guineans.
ICT deployment will be the key enabler of this universal education process in Papua New Guinea. In a world where knowledge is only a click away on the internet, software applications and computers where globally primary to secondary schooling is about teaching students how to fish for knowledge, teachers in the rural areas of PNG are still spoon feeding 80% of our rural population children. Yet we have the audacity to write off our teachers in the public education system, especially those in the rural areas as lazy and incompetent when they don’t have better resources such as computer labs, one is more effective preparing teaching materials on computers than manually and they don’t have access to the internet and online/soft encyclopedias for research. That coupled with children in urban areas from the ever expanding middle and upper classes having access to computers, the internet and other materials of convenient knowledge accumulation such as electricity for extra hours of study at nights gives an uneven playing field comparing the results and longer-term outcomes of schools and teachers in rural areas to those in urban centers.
Ballpark Figure in How Much it will Cost PNG to rollout ICT in 1000 Public Schools
1000 public schools x K200, 000 to construct computer labs = K200 million
1000 public schools x 30 laptops per school x K2, 000 per laptop = K60 million
1000 public schools x K100, 000 for solar panels + air conditioners + printers + copiers = K100 million
Total infrastructure development and asset procurement = K360 million (around K400 million)
For about K400 million to K500 million, PNG can invest in ICT as a key enabler for universal education through all public schools in rural and urban centres. This will be truly transformational for the country over the next generation.
Political parties talking up FREE education as one of their policy pillars for the upcoming elections in 2012 should consider the economic rule of resource scarcity and opportunity cost: do you forgo ICT implementation as an enabler for universal education as a long term solution to improving the country’s social development indicators or provide FREE education? Either of which will cost about K500 million.
However, for FREE education K500 million has to be forked out from development budgets annually whilst investing in ICT for the education system’s universal education requirement the infrastructure and assets will be depreciated anywhere between 5 to 10 years. Therefore, over a 5 year period PNG would have forked out about K1 billion investing in ICT for schools or K2.5 billion if it were to invest in FREE education. FREE education wasn’t sustainable in the past and we hope the current policy of some parties on FREE education is not a knee-jerk policy-on-the-run.
PNGTIME is a middle of the road social enterprise in the ICT ecosystem highlighting areas not fairly given the attention and this is one of them – FREE education or ICT for universal education? Do we want to achieve quality or quantity from our education system? Should parents worry about a quality education system and sweat to pay for school fees or worry about wriggling their way out of parental responsibility for FREE degraded public education? As long as a critical mass of next generation Papua New Guineans get a good grounding from a well founded universal quality education with ICT competence as a universal entrepreneurship tool in the digital economy, we believe all of Papua New Guinea’s development challenges will take care of themselves – to what degree we can’t postulate but the impact will be momentous and long-term!
For more than 30 years after independence, PNG hasn’t developed a critical mass of entrepreneurs in all sectors of our economy. The issue is not about the country not putting enough school age children in classrooms for longer. The challenge is, however, an under resourced and under developed education system. ICT is an entrepreneurship tool of the global digital economy and it has to be integrated into our education system – not teaching our children to learn their mother vernacular in elementary schools – that and other equally low priority responsibilities are a social and cultural responsibility of parents.
Feeding ICT to all public schools is our alternative to a problem of a silently creeping digital divide. It is no longer a problem of the world Vs PNG, but, a problem of the well to do middle to upper class Vs the socially and economically excluded.
The Four Pillars of The Knowledge Economy (World Bank)
The following pillars are four critical requisites for a country to be able to fully participate in the knowledge economy:
Education & Training
An educated and skilled population is needed to create, share and use knowledge.
A dynamic information infrastructure-ranging from radio to the internet-is required to facilitate the effective communication, dissemination and processing of information.
Economic Incentive & Institutional Regime
A regulatory and economic environment that enables the free flow of knowledge, supports investment in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), and encourages entrepreneurship is central to the knowledge economy.
A network of research centers, universities, think tanks, private enterprises and community groups is necessary to tap into the growing stock of global knowledge, assimilate and adapt it to local needs, and create new knowledge.
Source: PNGTime Newsletter
Source: World Bank – http://go.worldbank.org/5WOSIRFA70