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The Keys to ICT in the Arab World David Weir (thanks to Dikran Karaoglanian: MIM CERAM 2005)
Strong Factors • Growing economic capability • Common culture • Common Language • Technological enthusiasm • Networked societies
Weak Factors: Social weakness • Low literacy levels • Low social incorporation of women • 65 million adults who are illiterate, of which two thirds are women; • 54 million people lack access to safe water • 29 million lack access to health services • One out of every five people lives in poverty, on less than $2 per day.
Weak Factors: Specific weakness • Governmental communications monopolies • 0.6% of the population use the Internet • the penetration rate of the personal computer is only 1.2%. • Internet culture seen as threatening • Telecommunications continue to be both costly and of limited availability. Prevalence of telephone mainlines is less than one-fifth the level in industrial countries and international phone calls cost twice as much
Needed Actions • learning programmes tailored directly, at secondary level, to ICT knowledge and, at tertiary level, to the ICT market segment. • Vision that facilitates an education model responsive to the development of ICT • Future-oriented plans and predictions • Capacity-building efforts: development of a cadre of middle-managers able to tackle ICT projects successfully in both the private and public sectors.
Language usage • Regional information mechanisms have been created • Expand Arabic language materials: • the languages used are primarily English and French • A number of initiatives are taking place to facilitate the use of ICTs in the Arabic language
Comparison with China • China faced similar challenges in terms of language content and infrastructure in 1998. • A large effort was then made to boost internal connectivity and encourage the creation of content in Chinese. • This initially decreased the demand for international access and increased domestic exchanges. • When the rest of the region joined in, led by Chinese-speaking Hong Kong and Singapore, and several fibre-optic backbones became operative, Asia woke up to a different, more region-centred reality. • The effort is today paying its dividends in a substantial increase of regional trade and information sharing. • Compared to Asia, horizontal exchanges of knowledge are still not frequent among Arab State countries, where best practices and lessons learned are shared less regularly.
Needs • Creation of an Arab-language internal market • Expansion of generic Arab language materials • Liberation of content • Raising of general literacy and participation levels • Liberalisation of telecom services. • Al-Jazeera model • International agency programmes • Sustainability through entrepreneurial/familial networks rather than massive State-directed projects