Community information centres provide a window of opportunity for rural-based students to take up science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, Dr. Jenfan Muswere, the Minister of Information Communication Technology (ICT), Postal and Courier Services has said.
He alluded to this fact on 17 September 2021 while launching the Rafingora Community Information Centre at an event graced by Mary Mliswa Chikoka, the Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Mashonaland West Province; the Deputy Minister of ICT, Postal and Courier Services, Hon. Dr Dingimuzi Phuti; the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Dr Engineer Sam Kundishora; the Director-General of Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), Dr Gift K. Machengete; and CEOs of Postal and Telecommunications Sector players, among other dignitaries.
“As a country, we have been doing a lot to encourage coding and STEM education. More emphasis has, therefore, been placed on maths and science, and technology education. Unfortunately, for too many of our children that is something that is viewed as out of reach, especially for those in rural areas. We however forget that people are not born coders. It is not as if suddenly if one is born in Harare they can figure out how to code a computer. That is not it. What happens is children need to get exposed to digital technology early, so that they learn and soak it up like sponges as they grow.
“When we make such commitments for all of our children, the great thing about it is that the blessings are returned to us – because we end up having a workforce that is better educated, which means suddenly companies want to locate to Raffingora, which means businesses start booming, which means businesses start hiring, which means everybody does better.
“Somewhere among the millions of rural-based young Zimbabweans who don’t have access to the digital world could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, the next Bill Gates. Some of them might be right here in Raffingora. We should, therefore, make sure they have access and exposure. If we do not give these young people access to what they need to achieve their potential, then the loss is not only theirs but ours as a country. That is why our Ministry has made it a priority to provide more Zimbabweans with access to Internet connectivity and close that digital divide that we have always been talking about,” Dr Muswere said.
Meanwhile, the pandemic, brought about by COVID-19, has laid bare severe inequalities in society, hence the need to bridge the digital divide between those in urban setups and their rural counterparts since the pandemic affects all people equally, regardless of location.
Thus there is the need for universal access among all people including those in remote unserved and underserved areas. In response to the growing need for social support across the nation and specifically in remote rural areas as a result of the pandemic, the ICT Ministry instructed POTRAZ to put in place a raft of interventions under the ICTs for Disaster Management (ICT4DM) Programme, to cushion members of the public from the effects of the pandemic.
“We have made it a priority for POTRAZ to ensure that at least 1500 rural health centres are connected to the Internet by 31 December 2021. We also expect the Authority to connect at least 1500 rural schools to the Internet by 31 December 2021. All the connected institutions will also be provided with bandwidth for at least 6 months.
“Over and above this, our Ministry has also instructed ZIMPOST to ensure that all members of the public visiting Community Information Centres will have free Internet Access at these centres, at least up to 31 December 2021. With more people facing economic challenges stemming from the pandemic, we hope these measures will help to expand access and coordinate services for those most in need of social support during these trying times,” Dr Muswere added.
Speaking on the same occasion, Dr Machengete said the Rafingora Community Information Centre will bring enormous benefits to the farmers in the area.
“To begin with, through CICs farmers can access various e-agriculture platforms that are available. Such platforms can enable farmers to hire or hire out equipment such as combine harvesters, tractors, trailers, boom sprayers and shellers among other things, thus improving on farming efficiency.
“Farmers can also order implements online such as seed, fertilizer, pesticides and approach courier service providers such as ZIMPOST’s Courier Connect for delivery. This will ensure farming operations are not hindered by travel restricting pandemics such as COVID – 19.
“Through the Internet, farmers can access relevant information about prevailing market trends, which would assist them to appropriately plan their operations. Online research can also be done on the latest and more efficient farming methods which may help farmers cut costs and increase productivity. Additionally, farmers can market their products online. The benefits are just but endless,” Dr Machengete said.
Apart from using CICs for the advancement of agriculture, these centres have various other essential uses that can transform people’s lives. Firstly, Pupils and Students can make use of the centres for e-learning and academic research.
Secondly, patients need not travel long distances to clinics and hospitals as doctors can now be consulted online through various e-health platforms that are accessible through Community Information Centres.
Additionally, Community Information Centres can be used to advance e-commerce as they enable rural-based businesses to reach new markets, promote products and services globally, and access critical business and financial information.
Through Community Information Centres, communities will soon benefit from the e-government project where they will be able to apply for Passports, Identity Particulars, Birth Certificates, Death Certificates and Burial Orders among other essential Government-issued documents.
Apart from Community Information Centres, POTRAZ is collaborating with the Ministry of ICT, Postal and Courier Services on several other projects in the country aimed at improving ICT access and use and bridging the digital divide.
Focusing on Mashonaland West Province, the Authority has erected three (2) shared base station towers in Neuso and Gachegache. The Province boasts of 21 Community Information Centres courtesy of POTRAZ, three (3) of which are containerised units, while eighteen (18) were set up at Post Offices. The other two (2) containerised units, Hon Ministers, are in Chirundu and Selous.
Nearly 2200 people have received free training in basic computer skills at the two (2) centres with operational training facilities that is Chinhoyi and Murombedzi. The three (3) containerised units are all equipped with training facilities and this will certainly see an increase in these training figures, once COVID-19 protocols permit the resumption of training.