Reaching out to the Mud Hut

Technology has always opened new ways and means of making life easy. It has its impact on almost all the sectors of life and the economy, but the major concern is about its easy reach and accessibility to the common people. Technology should focus on the effective and efficient delivery of basic needs of food, water and shelter.

In the past decades, information technology has undergone substantive improvements, which are crosscutting through different sectors. Though it is a great success so far as the technology is concerned, but at the same time it has only addressed the more urban setting. The impact is more visible at the apex of most initiatives and not the grassroots.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is one of the several, major, new technologies, which are having an impact on the socio-economic system, especially in the developing countries. The ways in which people, organizations and governments deal with ICTs and understand their current impact is an important issue for its effective utilization. If the emerging technology is not able to address the fundamental problem (which is the basic amenities of the common man), there is much to be lost, than won. In a developing country, this is one of the basic problem areas, which leads to a digital divide rather than the creation of a digital bridge.

Unlike other technologies the Information Technology is not addressing the problem at its grassroots level but is acting more as a catalyst. ICT is facilitating to promote and disseminate ways to be able to cope with the more basic issues and problems.

In order to address the basic needs of the rural people of a developing country like India, the following need to be addressed.

Resources and infrastructure

There is a great potential for ICT in rural development, and in a country like India the rural people and even the middle income groups face resource constraints. These constraints should be bridged through initiatives from the voluntary sector and through active community participation. In this age of corporate social responsibility, more and more corporate houses should get involved in addressing this issue.

Connectivity

Connectivity is a major issue for the application of ICT in development so far as rural India is concerned. Many villages in India still do not have access even to functional telephone lines. The quality of the lines reaching other villages is not efficient enough to transmit data. The disturbance in the telephone lines is a major bottleneck in communication. At the same time, the process of getting the telephone lines is extremely tedious due to lack of proper infrastructure and access to information. There are some other technologies available, which make life easy in such situations, like the VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal). A VSAT is capable of supporting Internet, data, LAN and voice/fax communications. This technology is useful for geographically dispersed areas and in places where proper infrastructure is still not well established.

Connectivity increases business options in two directions – mainly from rural to urban and vice versa. The corporate sector in India has understood this concept and is aiming at the large market potential and is laying fiber optics network in different parts of India and, very soon, the connectivity would no more be a problem for the implementation of ICT for development.

Customization of information for the specific user group

Implementation of technology needs inputs from the entire geographical spread of the Indian sub-continent, which has inherent differences – ranging from the disparities in the economic conditions of the households to the availability of the natural resources. This allows for an efficient customization of generically available information. Today, we find many sites provide ideas about setting up of micro enterprises for sustainable agriculture, but needs area specific customization so as to provide value for the common people at the grassroots. In the Indian subcontinent where diversity is immense and at all scales, customization of content plays a major role in ICT for development. Information packaging should be driven by the user demand.

Multilingual feature

In a developing country like India, it seems to be impossible to address the rural masses without having an interface in the language they understand, which creates the need for a multilingual interface.

“Multilingual Systems” refer to computer programs, which permit user interaction with the computer in more than one language. Typically, a multilingual system permits the user to interact with computers in their own mother tongue. Such a system will have a far reaching impact in our country, where English is not spoken or understood by majority of the people living in areas away from urban environments.

Delivering information throughout the world requires a particular multilingual attention as far as software is concerned but considering human factor is also a must because the software system can not handle the grammar as well as the language. Therefore, a good management of multilingual system capitalizes on both the human factor and the translation tools.

Conclusion

Information being the key to empowerment, it is vital to adopt all the above said measures to empower our rural folk who form the weakest link of the chain called India

This article is published in Development Alternatives Newsletter, May, 2002

By Kedar Dash