INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SERVICES FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES TOWARDS POVERTY ALLEVIATION
 
 

A.K.M. Ahsanullah

Bangladesh National Scientific and Technical
Documentation Centre (BANSDOC)
Md. Faruque & Aulad Hossain
Dhaka, Bangladesh

Keywords: Information Technology, Technology Innovations, Information Tech-nology Services, Community Information Services, Rurual Communities, Developing Countries, Scientific and Technical Information, Third World Countries, Bangladesh, Poverty, Village Information Centre, Spark Program, Unesco/PGI, dBASE.

Abstract: Information Technology along side Scientific and Technological (S&T) innovations have been developing in a way which practically controls wealth and power of a nation. But, it is heartening to note that all the controlling agencies of respective countries acquired these technological innovations usually located in and around Cities and Metropolitan areas. These technological (S & T and Information) innovations are actually achieved with the aim of human welfare. In fact 80% of the rural community people of Third world countries do not get any fruit of these innovations achieved at the expense of billion of dollars. To the tune of only 20% of the people living in and around urban areas are utilizing the benefits of such developments.
The real theme of the paper is to expose the application of Information Technology (IT) and to find out ways and means to transmit the benefit of "Technology Innovations", towards socio-economic emancipation of rural communities and "Poverty Alleviation" of teaming millions. A Case Study is described on the basis of activities conducted in some pre-selected rural areas in most practical terms, and evolved some practical solution of problems of communities. This is achieved and being extensively achieved by the application of Information Technology (IT) like telecommunication Services linking with computer Network as well as of the application of Library Information Services (LIS), Video-Tape etc. A package software program is also working out for exchange of information among the rural communities so that "New Technology" appropriate to community development may be transmitted well in time.

 
1. INTRODUCTION

Bangladesh may be considered as a typical example for determining the real status of develop-ing countries of the world towards undertaking program of activity for development. It has a population of about 110 millions within a small area of 1,48,500 sq. kilometers. The category of community people living in the country mainly is as follows:

Rich Community consists of top executives, business magnets etc. The people have no problem of work. They have enough opportunity of creating jobs. But their number is very small. They live in urban areas.

- Educated Community which include university teachers, teachers of colleges, institutes, schools, graduates and postgraduates coming out of the universities after completing their education, other such category of people received or are receiving higher education. They live mostly in urban areas and villages.

- Higher Middle Class Community which include senior executive, executive, junior executive in Government, semi Government and autonomous organizations as well as of private farms, far-mers etc. Some business communities are also included in this category. This category of people live in urban areas.

Middle Class Community (General): This is the second largest community in the country. This community includes general Government employees working in various ministries, division, semi Government organizations, NGO, autonomous bodies, industrial concerns, trade centers, primary and secondary school teachers, farmers as well as of college teacher and other such organizations. This categories of people live mostly in an around urban areas as well as in villages. This people are usually considered educated community.

Lower Middle Class Community: This category of people consists of small farmers/ agriculturists, small businessman, lower class people of Government departments, semi and autono-mous organizations, worker of industrial concerns, business farms etc.

Poor and Isolated Communities: This is the largest group of people in the country. They are the real problem of developing and less developed countries of the world or in other words, so called Third World Countries. These communities include daily labours, unemployed old and young, dependent women and children, handicapped, beggars, isolated communities like fisher-man, Potter, Kamar (Iron Smith). Thatti (Handmade cloth manufacturer) doll maker, Hair dresser, washerman, poor farmers, landless people etc.

The communities are spread all over the country including urban areas and Metropolitan cities. Majority of poor old people, children, deserted woman who are usually considered begging as the main source of income for their livelihood and lived in unhealthy places of roadside ditches. Some of these community people worked part time or full as house keepers, house servants and daily laborers. Their income are not sufficient for their family maintenance. The rural villagers are over 80% of the total population of the country.

2. SOME EXAMPLE OF THE STATUS OF ISOLATED COMMUNITIES

Potter community (Maker of earthen ware articles): In earlier days (around two decades ago) this community was the real backbone of the middle class and poor communities. Their earthenware articles were used as cooking articles and utensils, water pots, tea pots, flower tops, materials for show room decoration even for ancient king and queen. These are hygienically very good, less cost and were usually within the reach of common man. Now, these articles and the community people are going to be lost in the face of modern competitive market and technological innovations. This community people are now living with extreme hardship of financial crisis.

Fisherman: Once village fisherman were really active in catching and supplying fish to villagers and urban areas. They were the real supplier of protein food. Now, due to the develop-ment of modern trawlers and techniques for catching fish, these people became idle. Due to lack of Information Technology Gap (ITG) and financial crisis, they are really helpless to modernize their fishing nets and fishing boats. They are actually forced to live in hardship and are going to be lost in the society.

Iron Smith (manufacturer of house hold articles and agricultural equipment): This com-munity once upon a times was popular mechanics for the manufacture and supply of house hold articles and useful equipment. But with the face of development of new instrumentation including tractors and at the same time lack of Information Technology services (ITS) about the modern technological development, this community are living in the dark and completely loosing their professional market. And to recapture professional market, they are to acquire new knowledge about technology innovations by use of Information Technology Services (ITS).

Thatti (Textile manufacturer) Community (manufacturer of hand made cloth): This is a large community. At one time, the people of developing countries like Bangladesh were fully dependent on this cloth manufacturer. They used to manufacturer cloth of different types, designs, colors etc. Now, for want of new information technology services about day to day development of S&T on textiles fabrics, this gigantic industrial enterprises of many dimensions including employ-ment of large number of workers has become a loosing concern with no hope of survival. The similar situation arises or going to cropping up for agriculturist/farmers, doll makers, hair dressers, washerman etc.

Because, for want of regular and systematic delivery system of S&T innovations in respective fields by use of ITS for the improvement of quality production, marketing facilities, appropriate mechanism for maintenance of balance between production cost and sale proceeds, the farmers are going to be depressed and loosing interest in production of rice crops. This conditions are to be removed through New Information Technology Services to keep up the tempo of production target. These are the few examples of status of some communities out of so many who are fighting for survival in the rural areas as well as in urban areas of Bangladesh. These poor and isolated communities of different ethnic groups cover of almost 80% of total population of Bangladesh and spread over 68 districts and 68,000 villages.

The Information Scientist and technologist have a duty for improving the way of life and living standard of these people. This may be achieved by means of application of Information Tech-nology Services with the development and Innovation of Community Information Technology Services (CITS). The present communication describes some specific mechanisms to impose and apply the application of Information Technology Services for community deve-lopment towards Poverty alleviation.

3. INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES FOR DEVELOPMENT

Modern development of Information Technology (IT) has made information as raw material for development, power and wealth of a country. Limited creation, storage and retrieval of informa-tion was really started from ancient times. It was then used as a strong source of power by kings, dictators, rulers etc. against their opponents. The exchange of information was different limiting to only trusted people. Modern Information Technology has transformed into a source of development raw materials, wealth and power of a nation and directed for the well-being of humanity. The modern and the New Information Technologies side by side with Scientific and Technological (S&T) innovations have greatly influenced the chronological development of mode of information resource centers and technology development. The modes and the mechanisms of information exchange may be regarded as follows:

Development of Printing press, creation of learned societies, Academies of learned societies actually started publication of books, News papers, booklets, bulletin, magazine, periodicals etc. for the exchange of information. Exchange of letters between individuals for communicating ideas, specific data to selected friends working in the same field also have started at some later stage. With gradual development of R&D and S&T photo-micrographic and reprographic technology etc. which include micro-film, micro-fiche, Xerox etc. are added to the information technology. Innovation of telegraph, telephone, telex, fax, telefascimile, optical disc, have added further:

The discovery and application of computer in many dimensions from PC to Micro, Mini, Super-Computer in one hand and on the other telecommunication networking, satellite, video tex, hyper media, machine translation, Hot and cool information technology has firmly established modern Information Technology as the source of raw material, wealth and power of a nation.

The development and the innovation of all these remarkable technologies could not bring any remarkable change in the living standard of rural communities of Third world countries. Conditions prevailing in rural areas of Ethiopia, Somalia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Philippine etc. are living example of Modern Technology Failure and unfortunate outlook of technologically developed society of the world.

4. MECHANISM OF COMMUNITY INFORMATION SERVICES

There will be a center of Production (Information Service Centre) in every village or a group of villages which may be used as the focal point for cooperation and coordination among the produc-tion force working around the center. Here person to person contact for the exchange of ideas, discussion with resource persons, discussion meeting of village leaders, teachers, educationist are supposed to be organized and held occasionally to refresh and to make their knowledge up to date from among themselves as well as among communities working in different places.

Village leaders or group leaders are supposed to work as catalyst for activating working groups in the area and to collect information on new technology appropriate to community people for producing quality product, market information, price, information regarding locally available raw materials etc. The village production center or Information center is to establish a small library equipped with essential documents, leaflets, bulletin and other such information materials that may be required by working groups for improving their knowledge on their professional skill, matters relating to management of their professional work.

Information materials received from outside agencies, district and Thana resource centers are to be rewritten or translated in their own language, so that they are not frustrated or face difficulties in understanding and disseminating the information among the fellow workers or groups. Group leaders, village leaders, associated teachers of the respective village schools or nearly schools and colleges may come in separate groups to apprise their experiences in the matter and to help them in understanding information materials of different nature. For this weekly or monthly meetings are to be arranged by group leaders in collaboration or in consultation with village leaders and coordinator.

Group leaders are free to go any resource centers or resource persons within his reach for dis-cussion or solution of any problems that may beneficial for his group. The Centre is to be provided with the list of resource centers, resource personnel of the district and Thana with appropriate address and telephone number if any for easy asses to them. The center is to be provided with a telephone under the national scheme of the Government. Later on this may be incorporated with the proposed telecommunication networking and to extend information service still further. Telecom-munication services and the proposed Fax. Services at district level will further boast up the community Information services towards modern line of systematic flow of information even on New Information Technology (NIT) and New Science and Technology (NST) Information will be easily available to the community people in the rural areas.

Computer Services with different dimensions.

Most of the community people as well as of the professional groups are uneducated, cannot read and write properly. The village production center or Village Information Centre (VIC) are to be provided with educational facility to be managed by teachers of nearby schools in cooperation with village and group leaders. Classes may be arranged twice or thrice a week choosing a suitable time table appropriate to both sides.

Appropriate Technology on Improved and quality production of the product on pottery, Iron smith, dolls, showroom materials, a number of cottage industries products are to be identified for production at the community level as well as of small and cottage industry level. The processes of production of each products are to be described diagrammatically and in a simple language of their own to make the community people understand scientific and Technological process of production, simple leaflets in their own languages are to be distributed among them. This will facilitate to make them understand the process and reactivate them for improving professional skill following the scientific processes.

At present, in many villages, electricity is available, radio and television are used. The production center may be equipped with radio and television. Video cassette of different processes of quality production should be produced in collaboration with district resource center and National Information Centre, and should supply to the community people on processes appropriate to their professional work. Similar cassette may be played on radio and television as Spark Program daily at least for an hour in National hookup. National Resource Centres or Focal Points should make an urgent survey of available processes at present used by the people in the rural area, make them modernize in consultation with community people, and resource personnel take appropriate action for production of video Tape, and cassette appropriate to radio and television separately. National Focal Point (Information and Documentation Centres) may give necessary advice to the National Government through the Ministry of Science and Technology for arranging radio and Television program. Besides radio and television program, the processes of production with modern technological outlook and finishing can be shown by means of photo micrographic tech-nique by producing slides and transference's in the Production Centre once in two weeks or once in a month. This will also give enough encouragement and confidence to the working groups.

In some villages electricity are not available yet. In such cases, the people of the villages who are regularly visited the city on some days and leave the city on the same day should be identified. These people should be used as carrier of Information leaflets, New information, News papers, useful magazine etc. for the production center. Community and group leaders of the center may communicate these information materials in simple language to community people through discussion meetings in groups or of all groups together along with the young people of the villages. This mechanism also can work for updating information in the villages.

A number of active science clubs are established and going to be established spreading all over the country under the patronage (Science Museum) of the Government. These clubs may be profitably used for the exchange of information to community level. These clubs are located at national, district as well as at village level. Establishment at village level is not very encouraging. Science clubs at district and Thana level will be useful for S&T information exchange. Above all, development of intimate relationship and friendship between individual, community to community and development of means of communication between community and resource persons as well as of resource centers may give surprising results towards success of community information services.

5. SUMMERY OF INFORMATION SERVICES

In summarizing Information Technology for Community Information Services, the following mechanism and technologies are found viable :

Contact between individual and groups of work force as well as of among communities.

Catalyzing activity of group leaders and village leaders for disseminating on the spot available information.

Use of Production Centre library for disseminating Information booklets and updating knowledge on technology Information, professional skills, exchange of ideas among themselves.

Meeting of leaders for exchanging experiences to the community people. Contact of group leaders with resource centers and resource persons for matters regarding solution of problems.

List of resource centers, resource personnel, available data are to be made available at the center.

Telephone, Telecommunication Service, Fax, etc.

Radio and Television services.

Photomicrographic and video services.

Spark services.

Science clubs services.

Computer services with different dimension only in limited places (Villages).

Use of specific type of people coming and going regularly from village to town, town to villages.

Making people educated so that they are capable of receiving, utilizing and disseminating information appropriate to them.This will serve as a network of institutional links through different levels to national information systems and subsystems and will provide communities information resource base service systems which will definitely help to modernize their professional skill.

6. WORKING MECHANISM AND PRODUCTION BY MASSES

The real success of raising the living standard of Rural Community People lies on the success of implementation of proposed innovative features of Inn Services and simultaneous implementation of simultaneous implementation of "Production by Masses." The features of community Information services serve as a catalysis for interface, linking and interlinking formally or informally, or both, the resource of different actors already operating in the communities. Crea-tion of awareness among the community to work for themselves through participation program, creation of professionally skilled manpower (by arranging regular training program) to produce quality product are the important towards changing their way of life, means of livelihood and raising the living standard of rural people. These are the real themes of this paper.

7. THREE STAGE WORKING MECHANISM

There will be three committees in each village or a group of villages, namely, Advisory com-mittee, working committee and working group.

Advisory Committee will consist of 11 members to be selected from village leaders, resource personnel, professionally experienced retired people, teachers, educationist and persons on behalf of donor agencies.

- This committee will give advise on matters relating to ways and measures of developing community people especially in or relating to information needs of the working groups towards improving processes of production, quality production, quality control, market information etc. It will prepare lists of resource centers, information centers, resource personnel available at Thana and district level. This committee will make contact with National Information center as well as of different R&D and S&T organizations, universities, technical institutes etc. and try to assist the people (working group) to get resource personnel as and when necessary.

- The committee will make contact with Government to have immediate telephone services to facilitate outside contact with resource centers and resource persons, market information etc. This may ultimately linkup with the proposed telecommunication network. And in consultation with working committee, it will prepare booklets, short papers describing methods, ways and means of applying modes of information technology in a simple language understandable to them (i.e. their own language) so that they can produces quality product easily. Different indigenous processes of various products may be collected by the committee at least as available to nearby village for improvement and modernization.

The Advisory committee with their good offices will try to strengthen the "Production center" in all respects and make it a "Centre of Excellence" The committee in consultation with the working committee and working groups will try to produce video tapes of processes of important products to be shown on radio and television as "Spark program" in consultation with radio and television authority. This may take time, but in this way a real information services may be given to the rural community people who are in the dark of modern technology.

Working Committee (Management committee) will consist of at least 9 members to be selected from working groups, professionally experienced persons and persons on behalf of donor agencies. This committee will prepare a directory of community information needs which will also include names of equipment, accessories, supplier, nearest available shops factories etc. with full addresses of communication and contact. This directory may be published by the working commi-ttee with the help of National Information Centre for distribution to village production center. This directory may also include indigenous processes in production and those of out of production. The working committee in consultation with resource persons, national Resource Centres, Advisory committee and group leaders may make necessary arrangement for feasibility and pilot plant study by an appropriate organization for incorporating in the community project for production. This will help to involve the coelp to involve the community people asps in people's participation program.

- Working committee (Management committee) will take account of the progress of work of working groups through the group leaders and occasional inspection of record registers of each group leaders. The financial statements are to be recorded by the group leaders. The group leaders will submit a monthly financial report along with quantity of production and sale to the working committee preferably by the 10th of the preceding month. In any case working committee will be responsible for over all management, selection of working groups, selection of alternate group leader if necessary arises.

Working groups will consist of three to five (3-5) members to be chosen from locality (village). The group leaders will be selected from the group according to skill of work end capa-bility to run the group. Initially, the group leaders will be provided with small amount of financial assistance from working committee to start the work. The members of the group will contribute (one way or the other) also some amount to add to the fund received from the working committee on co-operative basis. Other people from the village may also join to the cooperative venture if desires, so that gradually a large amount of financial resources can be tapped from initially small amount of input.

The financial assistance as received from the working committee by the working group will be considered as temporary loan to be paid by easy installment by the group leaders from their sales proceeds. Thus, with increasing working groups and sales proceeds a large cooperative venture is to be created from village after village and ultimately create environ-ment of "production by Masses" The monthly remuneration of working groups and related personnel will be met from sale proceeds.

Here is the solution of unemployment in the rural areas, poverty alleviation, means of livelihood, changing way of life, standard of living etc.

8. SUCCESS OF A PILOT PROJECT (A CASE STUDY)

A small pilot project namely, "Innovative Rural Community Information Services" initiated by the authors with financial assistance of UNESCO/PGI, Bangkok, Thailand has generated all around interest at all levels of community people in the project area of Gazipur District of Dhaka Division, Bangladesh. Community people are mobilizing support for launching larger programs that may change the image of rural Bangladesh. A number of such initiatives are underway. The success of the pilot project with an isolated potter, community clearly demonstrate how Community Infor-mation Services with institutional links at different level to national Systems and Subsystems can provide rural community with a good information service system for application of modern techno-logy to add to their professional skill and quality production.

9. COMPUTER PACKAGE PROGRAM FOR COMMUNITY INFORMATION SERVICES

The Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh is taking immediate steps for use and application of Computer Services at all levels of National life for socio-economic development. Computer services are already available in many districts of the country. Fax services at district level is going to introduced soon whereas a direct telephone dialing systems are already in operative at district and some of Thana level, plan for extending computer Net working to connect important Resource Centres up to district level is in the process of implementation.

A computer package program for the exchange of information between the Village Produc-tion Centres to district and national level is in the working process by use of dBASE IV and dBASE III Plus. The program may be implemented after the completion of identification and collection of necessary input materials for information technology and working mechanism as described in this communication.

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The authors are grateful to Md. Shafiullah for his constant help during the progress of the work and preparation of the paper. The principal author is especially grateful to Miss Delia E. Torrijos, Regional Adviser to UNESCO/PGI/ASTINFO for arranging financial assistance and for many useful suggestions towards successful completion of Pilot Project.