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Syrian Telecentres To Decrease Digital Divide
Taran Rampersad, 27 Apr 04

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The concept of a Digital Divide is one which has as many definitions as it has contexts - yet a Digital Divide in the United States and a Digital Divide in Syria have a few things in common, such as people without access to digital technologies and a need for the digital technologies to allow the creative and constructive input of those who would not normally have such access on their own.

To answer this challenge, the United Nations Development Program has teamed up with the Syrian Ministry of Technology to open telecentres in rural areas to narrow digital divide.

Though perhaps there doesn't seem to be much new to this initiative, what is new is the manner in which it is being done. With only 0.4% of Syrians subscribing to the Internet, it not only indicates that the 'poor' haven't had access - it shows that an overwhelming majority of the country hasn't had access, and most importantly, that the Syrian government sees a need for people to have access.

...Syria's First Lady Asmaa al-Assad helped launch an information and communications technology (ICT) telecentre recently in Bosra, south of Damascus, that offers training in word processing, computer graphics, web site design and email.

This and other telecentres that opened stimultaneously in al-Zabadani, near Damascus, and Dreikish, near Tartous on the Mediterranean coast, are part of an effort to help rural communities close the digital divide and promote progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

The Ministry of Information and Technology plans to open another 11 of these reef (rural) telecentres this year, with support from UNDP. They will use ReefNet, a web portal providing information in Arabic catering to rural needs, including local information and news, food security, employment, laws and legal rights, social services, health and environment...

Use of the native language is also key to the success of such an initiative.

While there are pros and cons to government approaches, it's apparent that there's a need for such work in Syria. 99.6% of a country's population without internet access - something you and I may take for granted - is a staggering number. In a new world, where the internet allows collaboration even as we see on this site, we stand a better chance of gaining the perspective of almost an entire country in the near future.

Unshackled, we may find the next Srinivasa Aiyangar Ramanujan equivalent at one of these centers. Or maybe we'll just have to live with the benefit of having closer to 17,585,540 Syrians on the internet, collaborating. It looks like a win-win situation.

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