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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 November, 2004, 18:51 GMT
Communities get hi-tech help
Woman at Soweto e-learning centre, TVE
Skills learnt at the e-learning centres can lead directly to the workplace
Rural and deprived communities around the world are benefiting from the increased availability of computers and internet access.

Efforts to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital age are leading to improvements in quality of life and education and are also helping to reduce corruption.

In Soweto, one of South Africa's best known townships, half of those aged between 26 and 30 years old are unemployed.

Yet Johannesburg, the city that is home to that township, is the business hub of southern Africa and a magnet for job seekers.

I don't have a computer. When we have enough money, we will buy one
However, as unemployment soars, the divide between rich and poor is widening. And despite opportunities offered by the digital age, a generation has been missing out on a revolution that could change their lives.

Now a free e-learning centre, one in a network that has been set up around the country, is helping to bridge the divide.

The increasing use of information technology by these and other communities is featured in Making The Connection, a film in the Earth Report series made by TVE and shown on BBC News 24, BBC One and BBC World.

Soweto e-learning centre, TVE
Refurbished PCs are donated by companies and NGOs
Articia lives in Soweto with her grandmother and cousin. She is one of many young people who have been using the centre.

"Nowadays, most companies need a person who's computer literate so if you don't know anything about computers, you don't get hired," she told TVE.

"I don't have a computer. When we have enough money, we will buy one."

Education is key if equality of opportunity is to become the norm. So is the need for IT training. But most schools still lack the right facilities.

Skills learnt at the e-learning centres can lead directly to the workplace, or at least to an apprenticeship where abilities can be developed on the job.

The refurbished PCs are donated by companies and NGOs.

Carts and computers

In Karnataka, a state in southern India, farmers are as familiar with computers as they are with their bullock carts.

Since the programme was launched, 20 million land records have been computerised. And seven million farmers can now access official documents - vital if they want to secure a bank loan for fertiliser, seed or crop insurance.

The project is called Bhoomi - the Hindi word for land.

Farmers in the southern state of Karnataka
In Karnataka, roads and telephones are few and far between
Until recently, land records had been held by village accountants who entered details in hand-written ledgers, usually in pencil.

These accountants were often accused of tricking illiterate farmers into signing away their property or overcharging them for copies of their land deeds.

"Before, the records were done by hand. They would write in pencil and do the records. And at that time, they could change whatever they wanted," Mohammed Suman Kumar, an e-kiosk operator, told TVE.

In Karnataka, roads and telephones are few and far between so Bhoomi is a chance to close that gap. Around 200 village e-kiosks are now open for business.

Record collection

The Bhoomi project is the brainchild of Rajiv Chawla, secretary of e-governance in the government of Karnataka.

He told TVE: "There was tampering of the land records. The village accountants were not available to citizens when they needed them. A lot of fudging of the data.

"Therefore, a need was very strongly felt that these records should be computerised and put in a digital form."

The e-kiosks also sell copies of land records. Muhammad sells between 25 and 30 land registry copies per day. Of the 20 rupees charged, 15 go to the government and he takes five in commission.

"What I am charging here is much more than they would pay in the city. If you calculate the travelling expenses and the days and income they are wasting, I would say they are getting it at the cheapest rate."

Mr Shankara, a farmer in Karnataka, agrees the e-kiosks are a boon to the state's rural communities.

"Another good thing about this village kiosk is that the man offers computer lessons. This will be a good thing for my children to help them with their education," he told TVE.

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