A deliberate strategy to meet Guyana’s digital deficit
EVERY action made by the David Granger-led Administration is part of a deliberate strategy to ensure that all Guyanese can access the good life. Advancements in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) is one way the Government ensures that the quality of life in Guyana is ever increasing.
In this edition of Government in Action we take a look at some of the tech-related projects and advancements that ensure that our nation keeps apace with global development.
The good life for all
In his address to the National Assembly in October of 2018, President Granger reiterated his vision of a good life in Guyana.
“The State’s principal objective is to secure the ‘good life’ for all. The ‘good life’ entails providing every citizen with opportunities to be the best that they can be. The ‘good life’ is about securing sustained economic prosperity, ensuring citizens’ access to quality public services and promoting social cohesion.
The ‘good life’ involves eliminating extreme poverty and removing social, ethnic and geographic inequalities. The ultimate indicators of the good life are happy communities, happy households and happy people,” the Head of State said.
ICT: a human right
In 2017 the Ministry of Public Telecommunications signed onto the five-year E-Access and ICT Services for Hinterland, Poor, and Remote Communities Project.
The implementation for the project began in January of this year and Minister of Public Telecommunications, Ms. Catherine Hughes said that even the health and education sectors stand to benefit.
“We see technology as improving the lives of people. So, under this project, we are actually going to be providing internet access to hospitals [and] to health centres… That has a huge opportunity in remote areas for telemedicine. You’re in a remote area. You want to speak to a doctor. You don’t have a specialist. Through the internet, through technology, at a pre-arranged time, you could speak to any doctor, any specialist in Georgetown, [or] any part of the country, or any part of the world.
Similarly, for education, we’ve been pushing that, in remote communities where they may not have the range of specialised teachers, students still have an opportunity… to participate in a biology class, a chemistry class that could be taking place at another school somewhere in Guyana and still have an opportunity to do exams, to participate, to learn, and to develop themselves,” the Minister said.
Through the National Broadband Expansion Project, which will provide a network for all Government agencies, the safety and security of our City and towns also stand to improve.
“There is a component that looks at providing more cameras around different hot spots and different areas in Guyana so we can manage crime better. It also allows us to equip our police force with the requisite technology… It also allows us to build a command centre in association with the Ministry of Public Security… with a command centre and a network of police officers that have internet connection, it’s easy to identify where crime is taking place. The command centre will be able to say who is in which location close by that is ready and able to [address] with the situation,” she said.
Aligning the Ministry with the country’s Green State Development Strategy (GSDS), the Minister discussed the E-Government Project, which will facilitate the online access of over 200 Government Services by the end of this year.
“Looking to the future, we’re also going to be starting… our e-Government programme… e-Government [is] really how… as a Government, we could start moving toward paperless solutions. So, firstly, we want to be able to put more Government services online, which means that citizens [will not] have to go to an office and line up for three hours… to transact business. Our vision is that a citizen… will be able to do their passport applications totally online… By 2020, we are committed to providing and putting online, more than 200 Government services. So, I think that’s totally exciting,” she said.
Minister Hughes explained that the citizenry’s easy access to telecommunications services, which she considers a human right, is the true inspiration behind the 2016 Telecommunications Bill.
“In Guyana, we have a monopoly situation… Fundamentally, we felt that in today’s world we needed a liberalised environment, where the consumer would have the opportunity to choose from more service providers… We felt that small business [and] larger business providers would be interested in providing services, not only along the coastal strip and in Georgetown, but would be able to come up with their own economic model that made it worthwhile to provide better services in our hinterland and remote areas,” she said.
Girls in ICT
To date, the Ministry of Public Telecommunications has established 173 ICT Hubs across Guyana and each one is equipped with learning-based programmes that support school curricula.
Prioritising the emergence of a strong Guyanese compliment of software engineers, the Ministry has hosted several activities, including hack-a-thons in the hopes of seeking out local talent. Additionally, the Ministry boasts a robust relationship with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Guyana and hosts several initiatives targeting young women with the intention to level the imbalance of gender representation in tech.
“We have a very comprehensive and [a] very aggressive Girls in ICT programme… The UN has the mandate to promote more girls in ICT… It’s actually goal number nine in the Sustainable Development Goals [(SDGs)] and it is [as] true in Guyana as it is in every part of the world that not enough girls get into technology-related positions, when you consider that by 2025, 70% of the world’s jobs are going to require skills in ICT of some form. So, we’ve been pushing that,” she said.
Last year, the Ministry conducted a 12-week programming camp called Guyanese Girls Can Code. The camp was planned with a target attendance of 20 young women but was instead met with an attendance of 57 on the opening day. Minister Hughes was moved at this realisation.
“That was one of the most emotional times for me, to hope you can get 23 girls and to walk into the lecture theatre at UG… and to walk in that Saturday morning and see 57 young girls and their parents there with them egging them on… [it] was really a vision of where we can go,” she said.
Minister Hughes encouraged Guyanese to embrace the nation’s imminent technological advances.
“The onus is on Guyanese to take advantage also. We have to provide the opportunity, but you have to get up and go. In some communities, there are not enough computers and not enough space at an ICT Hub… and then there are some communities where its [computers] lying there… The opportunity is there with technology for every person regardless of their age to build their skills, but it will only be achieved if, as a person, you have the get up and go attitude. So, I encourage Guyanese to ‘get up and go’. The glass is always half full. Let’s not make it half-empty,” she said.
The future of ICT
Ms. Penelope De Freitas has taken the Minister’s ‘get up and go’ charge to heart. The University of Guyana computer science graduate, who is now the Head of the Computer Science Department there, said that an early introduction to ICT, especially in education, will put Guyanese on the forefront of global development.
“When we look at other countries, especially in the UK… They… have changed their curriculum, starting from [the] primary school level. They have introduced a number of ‘introduction to computing’ classes. They’ve even introduced programming… There’s a general shift toward infusing technology in everyday life and there’s a growing need to have a skilled workforce that can actually realise a future that is far more efficient [and] safe,” she said.
As for the imbalance of men and women in ICT, Ms. De Freitas said that men have a responsibility to open doors for women in the field.
“Currently our Department has a… larger percentage of females as opposed to males [than] in the previous years… That [is] due to the fact that the males that taught us as students… encouraged us to join the department. So, a major driving force was the males in our Department that encouraged us to come on, recognising that [they] needed more females in the [field].
[However,] this is not a field just set aside for males. It may require a different mindset in terms of thinking. Like any field, it requires commitment, a large degree of commitment. I think they can do it. Just give it a try… in the future we’ll need a larger workforce to come on board and develop Guyana,” Ms. De Freitas said.
ICT is a functional and practical response to the challenge of the digital deficit in Caribbean states; it will promote greater inclusion and innovation and provide information services and digital industries. Moreover, it is a necessary tool of the globalisation process which brings peoples and markets closer together and it has profound and far-reaching implications and influences in our day-to-day activities. It is against this backdrop that the Administration sees the development of ICT as a major part of the ‘good life’ that is the birthright of every Guyanese man, woman and child.