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    ICT: an Enabling Tool for Egypt's Socioeconomic Development

    Date published: 15 November 2006

    During the last years, MCIT has changed its vision from the mere production of ICTs to their utilization for cultural and socioeconomic development.

    Breathtaking developments are taking place every day in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) worldwide, and Egypt is no exception. While a mere two decades ago there was no Egyptian ICT sector to speak of, the astounding progress made through the spread of fixed telephony services, aided by a vastly improved process for landline acquisition, as well as the rapid increase in the number of mobile users and people able to access the Internet, are clear signs that this is no longer the case.

    The establishment and growth of Egypt’s ICT sector is largely the result of the work of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), which in the less than seven years since its establishment has led the country confidently into the digital age. During the last three to four years, MCIT has changed its vision from the mere production of ICTs to their utilization for cultural and socioeconomic development. That is to say that the majority of MCIT’s initiatives target the development of Egyptian society in addition to the expansion of the local ICT sector.

    Given Egypt’s high illiteracy and poverty rates, as well as the lack of necessary infrastructure to offer IT services to less developed areas, the MCIT mission is not an easy one. MCIT has responded with a series of tailored projects and initiatives designed to solve these problems and guide the country through an accelerated process of development.

    Securing access to ICT for all Egyptians was the ministry’s number one priority. Its efforts in this regard include various initiatives, among them “PC for Every Home”, “Free Internet” and the establishment of IT Clubs nationwide. Even the less privileged members of society and those in rural areas lacking ICT infrastructure can, through the Mobile Internet Unit project, gain access to computers and the World Wide Web. The launch of the Broadband Initiative in May 2004 also helped expand access to the Internet through the adoption of sophisticated ADSL technology and establishment of WiMax hotspots.

    With the belief that investment in education is the panacea for most obstacles to national development, MCIT has been working closely with the Ministry of Education in a number of projects aimed at empowering students with IT skills, thus preparing them for the demands of the modern workplace.

    Khadiga Bint Khwaylid preparatory school in Alexandria governorate is the first public school to be equipped with high-speed wireless Internet within the framework of the Egyptian Education Initiative (EEI). EEI aims at providing 2,000 public middle schools in 27 governorates with technological infrastructure and high-speed Internet access. The initiative is a partnership between not only the local public and private sector but also multinational IT companies, donors and the World Economic Forum.

    “By implementing this partnership, the Government of Egypt, together with World Economic Forum member companies and organizations, will pave the way for the transformation of our society to a knowledge society and contribute to the development and prosperity of our community,” said Hoda Baraka, EEI program director.

    EEI is just one of many schemes targeting the education sector. The Smart Schools Network initiative aims to ensure that all Egyptian students are “computer literate” before completing preparatory school by introducing basic computer literacy classes (for levels 7-9). The government is committed to deploying this project countrywide in 7,500 preparatory schools over a five-year period. MCIT’s e-Learning Competence Centers (eLCC), meanwhile, cater for those interested in distance learning.

    Yet it is not only computer illiteracy that MCIT seeks to eradicate, but illiteracy in general. With this aim, MCIT began an initiative to produce a CD-ROM tutorial for basic literacy. The simple, interactive tutorial will enable users to learn the letters of the Arabic alphabet, their sounds, and how to correctly assemble them into words and pronounce them, with only basic computer input required (i.e. use of the space bar and arrow keys).

    Another problem for many Egyptians in their day-to-day life, as well as a major obstacle to investment, is that of governmental red tape. The e-government scheme, yet another initiative designed to serve the needs of society as a whole, aims to change this. One of the core objectives of the scheme is to modernize the way citizens interact with their government by introducing ICTs to the internal operations of government departments and their interface with the public.

    MCIT has also facilitated the integration of ICT into health services, such as in the areas of health administration and clinical consultation, and is working to improve medical education in remote and underserved areas of Egypt. Through many new applications, Egyptian patients will soon enjoy access to international consultations for special cases while improved patient management will lower the cost of healthcare in general.

    Assisting and empowering developing communities, especially rural ones, through the provision of knowledge and information is the main goal of the Community Development Portal initiative. This scheme will link the network of IT Clubs through an Internet portal that functions as a common entry point to information of potential interest to users. In addition to national and regional news, material will include local information specific to the IT Club in each locality, e.g. opportunities for employment and small and medium enterprise financing, as well as guidelines related to small loans and micro-financing. The Ministry of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organization will provide food security news, including agricultural information, market prices, weather warnings, educational material and advisory services. Also included will be information related to health services, covering such topics as labor disability compensation, immunization campaigns, and how to prevent infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, TB, etc.).

    MCIT has also implemented a number of development-based initiatives in the cultural field. These include an ambitious plan to document Egypt’s cultural heritage and efforts to expand the production of Arabic e-content as a source of intellectual and cultural inspiration for future generations. Increasing the volume and accessibility of Arabic e-content will, as demand increases, allow for the development of a thriving e-content sector in Egypt and provide opportunities for export in this field.

    Another cultural development scheme is the Community Knowledge Generation e-Library Initiative, which, as its slogan clearly states, aims to provide “Information for All”. The objective of this project is to create electronic libraries and establish a mechanism for information gathering, validation and maintenance that is relevant to local communities and which can be provided in digital format. In order to maximize its impact, this initiative will be linked to the Smart Schools and IT Club Franchise programs.

    The above mentioned initiatives are not all the development driven schemes adopted by MCIT which aims at providing CIT services and steering development to eventually touch the life of each and every Egyptian. And while it took the MCIT less than a decade to change Egypt’s location on the technological map, early gains of its efforts to enhance socio economic and cultural development is believed to be fruitful even faster.

    Soon we will see peasants in isolated governorates not only capable of reading and writing but also depending on the internet to get useful data for cultivating their land and  soon a generation that is well equipped with knowledge, innovation and competitiveness. Soon all those e-development initiatives will not only help Egypt to overpass the digital gap, but will also boast a computer literate and fast developing society.

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