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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 November 2005, 09:00 GMT
Volunteer call for the tech-savvy
Image of people in Tanzania using the net
It is vital that trainers with tech skills train others
An international charity that sends volunteers to developing countries to share their expertise is calling for computer-literate help.

Usually those who can teach skills such as reading and writing are in demand by the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).

It has also traditionally provided skills such as water and sanitation engineers and geologists.

But in a reflection of changing times, it is now actively searching out people with vital technology training skills.

"We are actually looking for teachers who have some experience of ICT (information communication technologies)," said VSO's Abigail Fulbrook.

"They don't necessary have to be qualified in ICT, they can be maths or science teachers who have some experience of that," she told the BBC World Service programme Go Digital.

"We would like them to be able to share their skills and train other teachers," she added.

Request from Tanzania

The call for tech-savvy teachers is very much a reflection of shifting priorities in countries which want to push their development.

"VSO always responds to what our partners overseas ask for," explained Ms Fulbrook.

We all have the right to communicate with each other, and that is what information and communications skills can do
Abigail Fulbrook, VSO

"Instead of sending people out to Africa willy nilly, we are responding to a request from the minister of education out in Tanzania."

The government there has been working with the Swedish development agency to kit out all the teacher training colleges with new computer technology and fast broadband connections.

Now the priority is to get people in who are able to help the college tutors understand how to use the equipment and software.

According to 2002 figures, just 300,000 Tanzanians have access to the net, out of a population of 35 million.

As of January 2004, there were 23 internet service providers in the country, with 16,000 subscribers.

But most people access the web via net cafes, where access is cheaper than in many other African countries.

Appreciated skills

Sarah Burnham-Slipper is an example of a highly-skilled trainer who decided to volunteer, and found herself in the African country of Eritrea.

Before her stint there, Ms Burnham-Slipper was doing some cooperate technology training in London, and often thought she could be using her skills more effectively.

She is a basic skills and a technology skills teacher with the bits of paper to prove it.

Image of a net cafe in Tanzania
Internet cafes springing up across Tanzania
"I decided to take those skills somewhere where they were really going to be appreciated," she said

Once out in Eritrea, she found that people were extremely enthusiastic about technologies and learning how to use them.

The main problem, common to many developing nations, was resources however.

"When I arrived there to start a pilot teaching scheme at a secondary school, I arrived to find a room with no whiteboard, no blackboard, no chairs, no tables and four old donated PCs that ran Windows 3.1 and no electricity points.

"For a very long time it was about getting the technology up and running to actually start teaching and utilising the technology," she explained.

Ms Burnham-Slipper says that, once in place, it was the communication aspect of technology that she saw as having the biggest impact.

"It has massive potential, predominantly over communication more than anything else. Most developing countries do have problems with this.

"Telephone lines, both internal and international lines, are quite expensive so the advent of e-mail and the internet has really helped Eritrea.

"A lot of internet cafes are sprouting up everywhere and people are wanting to branch out into the world really."

Offices are updating the ways they work too with technology, switching from paper-based to database driven electronic systems.

Some still argue that getting those electricity points, and using volunteers to help get basic necessities such as running water, should take priority over computing skills.

Indeed, VSO has conventionally helped out with finding water and sanitation engineers, as well as geologists.

Although traditional skills such as reading and writing are essential, where there is a reliable electricity supply there is no reason not to have a computer there, said Ms Fulbrook.

"We all have the right to communicate with each other, and that is what information and communications skills can do," she said.

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