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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 16:16 GMT
Youth speak out on digital divide
A delegate at the ITU Youth Forum
One delegate arrives for the Youth Forum
As students from around the world gather in Hong Kong for the fifth annual International Telecommunication Union's Youth Forum, two young people talk to the BBC News website about telecoms and technology in their particular countries.

MARIO A. ALEMAN ZAPATA - NICARAGUA

Mario received a degree in Electronic Engineering from the National University of Engineering of Nicaragua (UNI) in 2006. He is working with a program dedicated to the promotion and developing of solar energy to remote villages in Nicaragua.

Mario Zapata
One of the principle barriers for accessing ICT is cost - only those families which have a high income or prestigious social status in Nicaragua are able to afford to have a computer
Mario Zapata

In Nicaragua, a developing country located in Central America, most young people do not have access to ICT (Information and Communication Technology).

However, they cannot help but be aware of the changes currently taking place around them, thanks to the development of new technologies and media.

They know, for example, that the opportunity to take advantage of digital information and downloadable content would significantly enhance their lives - it could be invaluable for their education, and even their entertainment.

Young people are eager to learn about ICT, what it could mean to them, and why it is growing in importance elsewhere.

As a young student, who has been fortunate enough to have access to education and to technology, I can say that the majority of the Nicaraguan population is simultaneously amazed by and afraid of modern technological advances - most of which they merely hear about through radio and television reports.

Cost barrier

In Nicaragua, where 50% of families live in rural areas and 20% are unable to read or write, ICT truly is a luxury and a privilege that very few people are afforded.

The narrow sector of society, which has the opportunity to access modern technology, is generally made up of students from privileged schools and universities, and sometimes public institutions.

One of the principle barriers for accessing ICT is cost - only those families which have a high income or prestigious social status in Nicaragua are able to afford to have a computer.

And owning a computer is by no means a sign that the family is also connected to the internet, because that is an additional cost, which is out of many people's reach.

A handful of people, approximately 15% of the population, are able to enjoy the marvellous advantages of downloadable content - information through e-mail, MP3 files or video media content.

Answering questions

For people living in urban areas, who are less well-off, there is always the option to use cyber cafés to enjoy downloadable content - but these services are expensive and thus digital barriers are widening.

Older people represent another minority in the use of such service, as a large number of them are currently unemployed - a legacy of the old, traditional education system and a lack of foreign language skills.

What I find truly amazing and unbelievable is the situation faced by those living in rural areas, where their only access to education is through neglected schools.

Those who are ICT-aware ask how they access it, how they can use it. It is vital that those who are familiar with ICT work to reach out to answer these questions, and develop this interest.

CLAUDIA KARINA RUIZ-CASTELLARES - PERU

Claudia is a 23-year-old telecommunications engineer student from Lima, Peru.

Claudia Ruiz-Castellares
My dream is that all people from my country and countries with similar problems will grow professionally and together as a nation, developing and enhancing all our lives
Claudia Ruiz-Castellares

Living in a world full of opportunities and political contradictions, which I often do not understand, I regularly feel lucky to have access to the internet and a university education.

However, it concerns me that not everyone has this luxury - especially in developing countries. I am from Peru, where the digital connection between big cities, such as Lima, where I live, and rural communities in the highlands, or deep in the forest, is critical.

This year I had the opportunity to see how the internet changed one community's quality of life.

This community, based a few hours from Cusco Main City, did not have access to telephones or computers, and medical support was more than four hours away. For this reason, sickness was often left untreated, and infant mortality rates were soaring.

Educational opportunities

Now, using VSAT technology (Very Small Aperture Terminal) - a satellite communications system that serves home and business users, using a box that interfaces between the user's computer and an outside antenna , VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) technology, and some open source programmes, and thanks to an EU donation, they have been given a window through which they can view the real, "networked" world.

They are now heard, they can access information, and as a result, lives are being saved.

Aside from the tele-medicine benefits, this new world has also expanded educational opportunities. They are now experiencing new cultures without travelling.

They can learn English - and people from around the world can learn their languages, such as Quechua, and Aymara. Through cultural exchanges such as this, levels of respect and tolerance are growing - issues which lie at the centre of many of the world's problems.

The networked world is also enabling these people to create their own web spaces, resulting in improved levels of tourism and product exportation.

Blogs and downloads play an important role here, as people are able to share knowledge and ideas - how to design a website, for example, or install a soft phone.

Things like this can be learned without needing to attend a school or partake in an expensive training course. It is amazing how much I have learned from blogs, without having to pay for programme licenses. The "open source culture" is a great help to me for most of my school work.

It is important that people develop their own opinions through blogging - however, I do think that allowing everyone the right to publicise their personal opinion could lead to child protections issues in the future.

British education

All kinds of information is now available in this way, and education is therefore just as important as internet access. People have to be taught how to use a computer and how to maintain electronic equipment.

In some communities there is no electricity, meaning that computer users rely on solar panels, so battery maintenance must be taught.

Some argue that this is the government's responsibility. Others are not so sure.

However, people must one way or another be encouraged to engage in tele-education, which could even lead to good jobs with big companies, working in local communities as a teleworker, sharing skills with those who are intelligent but have not been given the same level of opportunities as their counterparts in developed countries.

Now, in the age of Internet 2.0, the web is of no use if only some people have access to it. Perhaps the digital society can help with this - I believe that promoting tele-education in our cities will help these people to get good education.

Just imagine for one second that people who earn as little as less than a fifth of your salary, and have limited economic resources, can now access a British university education, using teleconferencing facilities.

This is really my dream - that all people from my country and countries with similar problems will grow professionally and together as a nation, developing and enhancing all our lives.

In my opinion, government are already dedicated to this topic. In most third world countries, our problems and political situations are similar.

It is for this reason that I think that organisms must be developed, which are not dependent on governments, giving people access to information. It is vital that this is achieved, or foreign aid will disappear magically.-

This is what I am going to propose at the ITU's Youth Forum this December.

It is going to be a hard job to get people involved in all the activities that this mission requires but, in the end, we will all be satisfied if we use our skills to improve people's quality of life. Our mission will continue into the future.



SEE ALSO
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