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    Making a difference with IT

    Date published: 17 May 2004

    In an attempt not only to spread the use and awareness of information technology, but to use IT as a development tool, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) launched the Egypt Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Trust Fund.

    The purpose of the project is to use ICT to further socio-economic development in Egypt by increasing awareness of its benefits and by making it more accessible and affordable to all citizens. Currently the Fund is hosting five projects that have been financed through the Debt for Development Swap agreement with the Italian government. The five projects aim at empowering communities by giving them access to information. The five projects include: the Mobile Internet Unit, the Smart Schools Initiative, the Community Development Portal, a CD-ROM tutorial for basic literacy and the Community Knowledge Generation E-library initiative.

    The Mobile Internet Unit will deal with the problem of computer scarcity. It is a computer lab on wheels where its target audience can access the internet, and acquire computer skills. This involves the use of four buses especially equipped with a fully functional media lab. These units service specific geographical areas and stop at schools and communities for a period of two weeks. Visitors to the bus will be exposed to basic computer skills and use of applications, such as Word processing, spreadsheets and graphics. They are also introduced to internet skills, such as browsing, search and email. The project supports existing school curricula, via a combination of material presented through browsers and CDROM interfaces.

    The Smart Schools Network (SSN) Initiative aims at ensuring that all Egyptian middle school students are computer literate. The pilot project that started in 2003, will provide a level of exposure to ICT that will help identify from an early stage those students that have a special talent in this area for further training. The project will provide a model for introducing basic computer literacy to preparatory schools. It also orients children to the concepts of IT and introduces interactive methods of education, helping in the eradication of computer illiteracy while enhancing student creativity. This will ultimately lead to the preparation of professionals to meet the global and domestic job market requirements. This model will initially be piloted in 25 public schools.

    The number of students covered in the pilot project is over 14 thousand, and around thirteen hundred teachers and administrators will also be trained through the project on ICT tools. During 2003, 11 of the schools completed the mobilization and the training phase. The SSN project concept was developed in cooperation with the Ministry of Education (MOE).

    The third initiative, the Community Development Portal, aims at establishing a portal, or a common entry point to information that is needed by citizens and may assist them in the pursuit and development of additional socio-economic opportunities. The type of information presented and the links to socio economic, rural and development organizations will include as example local information, news, employment opportunities and health and education.

    The IT for literacy eradication project, the fourth project, aims at assisting existing illiteracy eradication efforts. More than 30 percent of the Egyptian population is estimated to be illiterate with higher rates among women. The project will produce educational content for illiterate youth with emphasis on women using ICT. It involves the production and distribution of a simple tutorial that will be displayed on a computer screen that will interactively teach the letters of the Arabic alphabet, their sounds and how to correctly assemble letters into words and pronounce them. This will be distributed through the IT Club networks, in schools and through NGOs and other social services and educational providers.

    The fifth project, the Community Knowledge Generation E-library initiative, aims at creating electronic content to serve local communities. It will establish a mechanism that will enable information gathering, validation and maintenance that is relevant to local communities and can be provided in digital format. It also hopes to define a strategy for encouraging local knowledge generation and promoting research capabilities. But these projects are not the end. A number of other initiatives are currently under study. The current five projects promise to be the beginning of more ambitious projects to be hosted by the ICT fund to boost IT awareness and usage in Egypt.


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