Saturday, May 15, 2010

Technology is the Preserve of the Rich

Every time I see an article talking up technology in Kenya and in Africa in general, I wonder which aspect of people's lives will be transformed. Over the last few weeks myself and my colleagues from Ribbon of Hope Self Help Group have been visiting families who never complain about having little access to technology. They have very little money and little access to loans. They are often surrounded by mud roads, living a long way from the sealed roads, which are often in bad repair. There is little or no affordable public transport.

Their children sometimes have very little food, no access to clean water or improved sanitation, decent clothing, books and other basic things that they need just to be able to attend school. If children become sick, their parents have to decide between taking them out of school and treating them or leaving them in school and hoping for the best. Hospitals are a long way off, they are expensive and they are poorly equipped and staffed.

Distance education would be great for children who had basic education. But only about three quarters of children even enroll for primary school, let alone finish. And just over 40% enroll for secondary school. Even at university or tertiary level, something few ever reach (despite some great official figures), elearning cannot replace teachers, books and indeed, access. Those who have got to university are already a small percentage of Kenyans who have not been denied any of the many things that poorer children will always be denied.

One of these idiotic sites that produces lots of puff about technology says "Kenyan Universities are increasingly turning to e-learning as tool to facilitate improved education". Will this improve education? It may be a new medium for some educational content but I'd like to see research that shows that education is in any way better for being delivered by electronic means. Computers are also in short supply and skills can be non-existent, especially among those who rarely have access to a computer.

Young children, especially in rural areas, where about 80% of Kenyans live, often don't have electricity or a private place to study, or even their own personal copy of the necessary text books. Some, especially girls, have to do chores around the house and farm when they should be studying. And many have to do work in the fields and in other jobs when the need arises. These are not technology related problems.

Technologies, I suspect, work when other infrastructures are in place. A farmer can, as these fatuous articles often claim, find out the market price of a commodity by mobile phone. But if there is no road, or if the road is impassible, or transport unaffordable, what's the point? Another claim is that medical stocks and medicines can be monitored electronically. The biggest problem in a lot of hospitals is the shortage or staff and medicines. Who is going to do the stocktaking and what stock are they going to monitor if there is not an adequate supply of drugs?

If the problems that most people experience can be relieved by various technologies, great. If everyone has access to these technologies and things in Kenya can change radically, wonderful. But if all these articles want to show is that some people use and like and even profit from technology, they are pointless articles, only useful to people who are already convinced that technology will pull everyone out of every problem them currently face. Technology will not solve problems of inequalities between rich and poor, between males and females, between rural and urban dwellers. Technology seems, at present, to be the preserve of the rich. And if their past behaviour is anything to go by, it will stay that way.


1 comment:

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