Call for IT education in rural development

By By Shasimana Uugulu
July 2010
THERE is a strong need for Namibia to invest more in Information Technology (IT) education and projects which promote IT literacy in rural areas if the country’s economy is to be IT driven.

This according to Alex Zacharia, owner of one of the country’s leading IT businesses, PC Centre Namibia.

He says Namibia has the potential of benefiting significantly from the opportunities presented by IT if more resources are put to developing IT skills within the rural areas since the country is sandwiched by two major economies, Angola and South Africa.

“Namibia has the potential of becoming a regional IT hub that will provide the much needed services to both Angola and South Africa if it rejuvenates campaigns to promote IT infrastructures and literacy in the country, particularly in rural areas,” says Zacharia.

Citing his native India, which has a successful software industry, Zacharia says:

“If you go into rural Namibia many people still do not understand the benefits they can get from being computer literate and some would even be afraid of touching the computer, but in India the government established IT centres in rural areas and continuously provide training to communities so that they can make maximum use of these centres.”

According to Zacharia, IT education helps improve livestock management and agriculture in rural areas and will help Namibia achieve other goals set in the Vision 2030 strategy.

“Marketing remains one of the greatest challenges in the development of the livestock industry in northern Namibia but IT education and a bit of technology applications will help increase productivity and improve stock management as well as keep records of things like feeds, sales, salaries and so on.”

In the long run these developments will lead to organised market intelligence, better management of pastures, good markets and good price information, argues Zacharia.

He says Namibia needs to embark on a massive IT development project that will aim at making integrating IT in all the production sectors of the country’s economy. Kenya is one of the African countries employing IT systems such as the Livestock Information Network and Knowledge System (LINKS) of the Global Livestock Collaborative Research Support Program (GL-CRSP) in its rural areas.

The system has helped local farmers identify suitable markets for their livestock and is credited for making a huge impact on market transactions in terms of improving sales and identifying markets offering better prices.

“Provision of marketing information or the improvement of the capacity to communicate will help farmers improve communications among themselves especially when it comes to diseases control,” Zacharia emphasises.

According to him, IT training courses should not only be aimed at improving literacy but should be aimed at enhancing utilization and development of local software as well as maintenance of IT equipment which is still a major problem in local businesses.

“Namibia should aim at introducing IT training courses that are aimed at addressing both software and hardware skills in the country. Training the youth in software development will result in Namibia having a sizeable number of software developers and programmers who will create software programs that answers the need of the local communities and market. More young people must be trained also in hardware development so that we have more IT technicians to repair and maintain computers.”

Both software development and the hardware involved in the IT industry include computer systems, design, implementation, study and development of IT and management systems.

“The only flourishing business in Northern Namibia is shebeen business and everyone just wants to own a sheeben. But with IT, some innovative youths can set up a business to develop software that will help manage, support and regulate the shebeen industry better.”

Zacharia came to Namibia in 1991 to work as the agent for Apple. In 1991, PC Centre was established as Namibia’s premier Apple reseller and warranty centre and has become a Gestetner dealer, HP business partner, and Digium Reseller over the years.

“We are based in Windhoek but we work with local agents throughout the country some of them we have trained and supported to offer support services and sell our products. This has contributed to an emerging local industry of IT entrepreneurs.”

Apart from selling IT products, the centre also offers IT services such as software development, computer maintenance and repairs, website development, network setup, intranet setup and also offer training to students.

Besides offering in house training to IT students from the Polytechnic of Namibia who are pursuing studies in hardware and software development, the company has an employee compliment of 20 employees.

He says the focus of PC Centre is to deliver innovative products and services that provide cost-effective communication solutions for businesses and the IT market in Namibia.

The centre also distributes specialised telephony hardware.

“As an Apple Authorised Reseller, Ricoh Dealer and Digium reseller with internationally accredited engineering skills, PC Centre is able to provide customers with a broad portfolio of services and technical resources. Because of our technical expertise, skills and an in-depth understanding of the IT market we are able to deliver world-class solutions that enable customers to free themselves from the proprietary world and its associated costs,” he says.

Zacharia adds that his company has developed ICT based solutions for institutions like the Road Fund Administration (RFA), Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR) F.D. du Toit Transport and the Motor Vehicle Fund (MVA) just to mention a few.

He maintains that what is hindering Namibia from becoming a regional IT hub is lack of purposeful and ambitious drive aimed at integrating IT within all means of production in the country.

Such an ambitious drive he said should focus mostly at rural areas to address the disparities in IT distribution throughout the country.

“Namibia can copy countries such as USA and Germany who imported a large portion of IT expertise to train their citizens and now they are some of the leading IT countries in the world.”

India remains the preferred IT hub in international markets and many companies are outsourcing their call centres services to that country. This is particularly due to that country’s massive investment in the development of IT infrastructures and education through the country.

Zacharia is confident that Namibia will achieve its development goals set out in the Vision 2030 but cautioned the government to invest more in IT education, particularly in rural areas.PF