South African Science Minister calls for global partnerships to bridge digital divide

November 7, 2002

Brussels, 06 Nov 2002

The key factors behind the divide between Europe and a continent such as Africa is the lack of modern infrastructure, inefficient and weak regulations, and the lack of local software content to stimulate a demand for technology, said South African Minister for Science and Technology, Dr BS Ngubane, at the IST conference in Copenhagen on 4 November.

Dr Ngubane was speaking at a workshop examining the issue of the digital divide. One of 36 themed workshops at the event, the session aimed to inform delegates about the inequality of technology use and training whilst looking at where the focus should be placed when addressing the problem.

Dr Ngubane started by making a general comment about the value of information and communication technologies (ICTs), saying that they are 'tools for development, and not simply the reward for development.' He gave examples where this is the case, arguing that technologies have been successfully used to promote democracy and good governance, facilitate health education and distance learning, and exploit opportunities in order to raise the general standard of living.

Only through global partnership could the technology gap be closed, said Dr Ngubane. Having outlined an African initiative to promote the use of technology, he called on the developed world and its political institutions to do all that they could.

One speaker during the session suggested that the digital divide was just one element in a much wider social divide. Professor Radermaker said that until everyone has access to food, water, health services and education, it will make little sense to try and introduce the poorest members of society to technology. Wiping out poverty, he said, would be the first step in truly bridging the digital divide.

A great deal of research has been carried out in this area, and the workshop was presented with the results from two separate studies. The first showed that a lack of education and a low income were the two major factors that prevented people from using ICTs, and that use of technology by people falling into these two categories is actually decreasing.

The second report showed that people living in rural areas are far less likely to regularly use computers that those living in urban centres. This is due to the lack of broadband infrastructure outside towns and cities, education gaps in ICTs, and the fact that services are geared towards urban rather than rural areas.

The workshop was designed as a forum for the sharing of experiences and information on the subject of the digital divide. With contributions from a wide range of people from different environments and backgrounds, everybody present will have encountered new perspectives and ideas on how to tackle this challenging and persistent issue.

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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