Role of Multipurpose Community Telecentres in Accelerating National Development in Ghana
First Monday


Role of Multipurpose Community Telecentres in Accelerating National Development in Ghana

This paper examines the development, growth and potential sustainability of small business communication centres in cities in Ghana. It investigates the extent to which these enterprises are using modem communication tools to provide services and its impact on rural development. It describes the type of technologies available at these centres and demonstrates how these centres could be used to provide services to urban, rural and other underserved populations. Additionally, it draws attention to how information technology could be used to alleviate the information needs of Ghanaians. Lastly, it provides a comprehensive listing of the major communication/information centres in the country.

Contents

Background and Overview
Communication/Telecentres in Ghana
Types of Information Communication Centres in Ghana
Financing Telecentres
Conclusion

Background and Overview

The provision of access to information and communication services is currently seen as a key to accelerating development in most parts of Africa. Until recently, the high cost of providing even basic telecommunication services limited the potential for widespread access to information and communication facilities. Today, information technology is opening up new possibilities and frontiers. The increasing use of information technology has made possible new methods to deliver services and to supplement existing ones.

In Ghana and other parts of Africa, the government, development agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOS) and the private sector are all diligently searching for new and better ways to harness the power of information technology (IT) to meet economic, social, educational and development objectives. IT is making a contribution to corporate and business productivity in capital cities across the African continent. Generally, IT is concentrated where telecommunications infrastructure, computer suppliers, Internet service providers and trained manpower is located and least costly.

The expansion of the electrical power grid in the 1990s facilitated the expansion of the communication infrastructure (e.g., the telephone system) in Ghana. This development has enabled IT-based businesses to expand to non-metropolitan areas of the country. Today, a number of small businesses (over 1,000 in the 90 districts of Ghana) with telephone service offer basic communication services such as telephone, fax, typing, photocopying, printing, training in the use of computers, electronic mail and electronic networking. In Ghana, the most common pressure group for the expanded use of information technologies (and paying for them) is the Parent-Teacher Association for select secondary cycle schools. They have made donations of equipment and promoted the use of a more flexible curricula so that students can make use of IT for academic and social purposes.

The term "telecentre" has been used to described most of these facilities. In some circles, they are called virtual village halls, telelearning centres, telecottages, electronic cottages, community technology centers, networked learning centers and digital clubhouses (Share, 1998). Such centres provide a range of community-based activities and services that include access to information and communications technology for individual, social and economic development (Cisler, 1998). Simply put, it is a shared information and communication facility for people in rural and isolated areas (Emberg, 1996).

Communication/Telecentres in Ghana

IT users in Ghana are overwhelmingly in the for-profit sector. Small scale communication centres providing public services rarely use the Internet, CD-ROMs or productivity software. Those that do use these tools rely overwhelmingly upon international donor resources. Government pronouncements are expanding the IT environment, but few public sector agencies spend their budgets for using IT tools (software, networks) to improve the performance of public programs, in health, education, utilities, trade, investment and tourism. The Ghanaian communication centres provide single-point access to information and services. Thus, they maybe regarded as a variant of the popular multipurpose community telecentres (MCTs). The main difference between the Ghanaian communication centres and the MCTs is size and the services provided by the centres; they tend to provide a narrow range of services, often located in a single room. By combining technology, trainers and users together at one location, these centres expect to lower the traditional barriers to using any new technology. The expected result is better performance in work, self-employment, vocational and life-long leaning and communication. The idea is to replace individual access to new digital tools with community access.

There is no history of community services provided by Ghanaian centres like those centres in New Zealand, Australia, U.K., Europe, Canada and the U.S. Also, there is little awareness of the community computing or FreeNet movements. The local centres invest in providing services for which there are walk-in, paying customers. Very little effort or expenditure goes into marketing. For example, centres that teach software skills to adults rarely try to attract customers to use educational software to teach reading, math or science to school-going youth.

Types of Information Communication Centres in Ghana

There are several categories of communication centres in Ghana. They range from a one room facility providing a narrow range of services to facilities that provide training and a wide range of development-oriented services. Generally, the centres can be classified into two broad categories - those with a purely commercial orientation, and those with a community/education service orientation (See Appendices A-C for details).

Commercially-Oriented Communication Centres (COCC)

Commercial oriented centres are those established with a profit motive. Almost all of them provide basic communication services such as telephones, fax and photocopying. A sizable percentage provide secretarial as well as computer-based services. The following list provides examples of COCC in Ghana:

IntenetGhana Cyberc@fe, Adebraka, Accra
Network Computer Systems Cyberc@fe, Accra
Paloma Cyberc@fe, Ring Road, Accra
Number One Cyberc@fe, Osu, Accra
CPC, Amakom, Kumasi
AfhcaOnline (AFOL) Business Centre franchises
Goidlink business Centre, Adum, Kumasi
Looks Business Centre, Medina, Accra
Business Centre, Golden Tulip Hotel, Accra
Community/Education-Oriented Centres

Community/education-oriented communication centres provide basic services to address the needs of a given community. Among others, the centres aim to a) tap the untapped potential of the people they serve, b) organize resources and expertise nationwide, c) foster the emergence of local capability, and d) promote a unique and comprehensive approach to servicing the multiple needs of people they serve through the innovative use IT. While they are not profit oriented, almost all of them charge basic fees for their services. Web browsing at some non-commercial centres with donor support is priced usually at the same level as Web browsing at the commercial centres. Examples of community/educational oriented communication centres are the following:

African Virtual University (U Ghana in Kumasi, Cape Coast, Legon)
Science Resource Centres at Senior Secondary Schools
CEDEP Community Learning Centre, Adum, Kumasi
Academic Computing Centre, Kokomemere, Accra
Upper West Commerce Association (UWCA), Wa
FIDONET, Ughana, Legon and Accra
Techiman Telecentre
District Local Government Network, Regional Administration., Cape Coast
Partners for Internet in Education (PIE), Central Library, High Street, Accra
Navrongo Health Research Centre
University of Ghana Cyberc@fe-Legon
University of Cape Coast Cyberc@fe
Ridge School, Kumasi
Morning Star School, Labone, Accra

Services Provided

Telephone is one of the most basic services. The first service of a new centre in Ghana is local, national and international dialing facilities (a human phone booth). Another popular service is fax. Most people send and receive faxes at communication centres rather than at their offices or homes. Photocopying is done on a small scale with a low-end and slow machine. Another service is video viewing for individuals and groups. An increasing number of centres are providing computer-based services such as word processing, spreadsheets and graphics. Once a number of PCs have been leased or purchased, a centre may expand the range of services to include software training. The importance of having an effective instructor is diminishing. Now, most are resorting to using commercial software. E-mail accounts are via Internet connections to free e-mail Web sites. Drop-in e-mail sending and receipt from a telecentre account is offered on a limited basis. Internet access fees start at US$1.00 per quarter hour. Some communication centres have existing contracts with non-governmental agencies to provide basic secretarial services. More advanced communication centres such as the cyberc@fes provide services aimed at the urban walk-in user who seeks personal support rather than support for work-related activities. Others provide Web site development for businesses and local agencies.

Financing Telecentres

It appears the Ghana Government is not yet in a position to initiate the financing of IT ventures in the public sector. Possibly the Government would put up matching resources where a donor would be interested in non-commercial (or even commercial) IT investments. A trend has emerged recently to deal with the basic economics of these centres.

In most cases, donor funding is available only for non-commercial programs. However most of these programs are overwhelmingly in schools. Schools are developing imaginative solutions to maintain equipment and software, with alternative programs appearing outside traditional educational context. There are a few - four to be exact - non-commercial activities that are being initiated without donor support.

Once donors have helped a school or agency to procure equipment, software and training, the agency may make use of these resources in some cases to earn revenue for the purpose of maintaining, upgrading and replacing IT equipment. For example, the Morning Star School in Accra uses its IT facility after hours to generate external resources. But, Ridge School in Kumasi does not get involved in the commercial use of its computer network. The Standard Institute of Business and Computing in Sunyani has a commercial contract with the Government Technical Secondary School to provide IT and business skills.

Challenges Confronting Communication/Telecentres in Ghana

Due to poor connectivity, inadequate infrastructure and human resource limitations, most of the centres provide very limited services. Low level of communication infrastructure in the rural areas make it difficult for such areas to be linked electronically. As Richardson notes, rural communities represent the "last mile of connectivity" (Richardson, 1997). Telephone density is very low in the country.

Conclusion

Communication/telecentres in Ghana are small businesses. They may be commercial or community, or education-oriented giving priority to learning, productivity and communication services that will be paid for. The learning services they provide are vocational in nature (typing, accounting, software and PC maintenance skills). These skills and tools are seen as being marketable by the customer. So the customer is more willing to pay for the training or use of the tools. There is the need for the government of Ghana and donors to foster markets for those services where there is weak commercial demand. The extra attention, pilot programs, assessments, marketing of these new services may stimulate awareness and demand. In that case, the private sector could later be able to step in and provide the service. But the fastest method would be to continue the public-private partnerships, such as the post office Internet services, in which public money serves to guide private initiative and resources to meet public purposes.

About the Authors

Osei Darkwa is Assistant Professor at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He teaches courses in social work research, social welfare policies and services and intergroup relations in a multicultural environment. His research, writings and publications focus on computer applications in health and international social policy, aging, distance education and the application of information technology to education, health and socio-economic development in Africa. He has participated and presented papers at numerous information technology conferences and workshops in the United States and a number of African countries. He consults with international development agencies in exploring the establishment of pilot multipurpose community and learning centers in designated countries in Africa.
E-mail: darkwa@uic.edu

Wilfred Owen, Jr. is a management trainer/consultant with 15 years of assignments in Indonesia and Egypt. At present, he runs a private school and communication centre in central Ghana.
E-mail: wowen@reston.aau.org

References

S. Cisler, 1998. "Telecenters and Libraries: New Technologies and New Partnerships," at http://home.inreach.com/cisler/telecenters.htm

J. Emberg, 1996. "International perspective: Empowering communities in the information society," In: Empowering communities in the information society: Conference proceedings. Helderfontein Estates, Fourways, South Africa.

C. Handy, 1997. The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism: A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World. New York: Broadway Books.

M. Jensen, 1996. Unpublished report for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

L. M. Moyo, 1996. "Information Technology Strategies for Africa's Survival," Information Technology for Development, volume 7, number 1, pp. 17-27.

P. Share, 1997. "Telecentres, IT and rural development: possibilities in the Information Age," at http://www.csu.edu.au/research/crsr/sai/saipaper.htm

D. Richardson, 1997. "Finger on the pulse: survey of key rural stakeholders in Ontario with regard to telecommunication service enhancement," Unpublished survey report for Bell Canada. Guelph, Ontario, Canada: Department of Rural Extension Studies, University of Guelph.

World Bank, 1997. The State in a Changing World. (World development report; 1997). New York : Oxford University Press.

Appendix A: Selected Information/Communication Centres in Ghana

Africa Online, Inc.
Africa Online is the second national ISP in Ghana with points of presence (POPS) in Accra, Kumasi and Tamale. AFOL is well known for its package of finance, online training and technical assistance plus Internet service. Financing is provided with a 24 month payment schedule of installments for a business centre to purchase of a Pentium-based computer with a printer, monitor, modem and software. AFOL wants to take the technical and financial track record of the many start-up centres dotting the country and link then together and to the rest of the world through the Internet. By expanding the number of subscriptions and setting up Internet servers in secondary cities, costs to AFOL are to be reduced. The users in those cities no longer have to pay the for long distance charge to dial into Accra.

Internet Ghana
Internet Ghana was established in late 1996 and operated the first InternetC@fe in Ghana located on Kojo Thompson Road. It offers e-mail accounts and Web browsing for walk-in customers.

Ghana Association of Business and Communication Centres (GABCC)
This group has members from business centres from the major cities such as Accra, Kumasi, Tema and Tarkwa. The centres offer photocopy, phone and fax services. In addition, they provide e-mail and software training. They charge commercial rates for all services, some of which are the same price as similar services in the schools and donor projects.

Morning Star School
Located in Labone, they have started a purely commercial software training school with Internet access after hours once the students have departed from the computer lab. This is a program initiated to maintain the IT component of the school by earning revenues from the equipment and instructors at hand. A national newspaper runs ads about the training program for adults.

Ridge School
This school is located in Kumasi. The lab is the result on an aggressive PTA. The program is oriented exclusively to the student and teacher population of the school. The nine networked PCs with Internet connections are used for kindergarten through middle school classes, student clubs and teacher in-service.

Cyberc@fes at the University of Ghana and Cape Coast
The Cyberc@fes at the University of Ghana (Legon and Cape Coast) are commercial uses of the equipment donated to the school. Students and faculty are allowed to join the C@fes and each service they use (computer literacy, rental, Web access) is charged for the sake of cost recovery. The use of the lab is free to those taking the appropriate courses that include lab assignments. The effort was funded by the Japanese (with 50 PCs) and is managed by computer science instructors on both campuses.

Navrongo Health Research Centre
This is one of the original hosts of the FIDONet system established in 1991. The system is supported by the NGO, HealthNet. The network uses a system of low orbiting satellites to transfer e-mail messages. At present, the health research centre dials in to a Internet service provider in Accra using the national terrestrial telecom infrastructure.

School-Based Information Centres
The Opoku Ware and Ofori Panin Secondary Schools were recently given computer laboratories through the Ministry of Education and Samsung Industries of Korea. These are a supplement to the already existing science resource center computers. The new PC labs allows the setting up of Internet connections and software training without interference with the existing science classes. Additionally, a number of Peace Corps Volunteer teachers have helped schools set up computer labs that provide services to students, teachers and the community.

Science Resource Centres
Science Resource Centers have been established in most of the districts in the country. This program was initiated by the U.K. government. There are discussions over access to the Internet in the science labs. The policy has been to not allow additional software (multimedia) or hardware. This prompted a number of PTAs to donate stand-alone PCs to schools for Internet use. The Ministry of Education in Accra and the World Link Project of the World Bank may encourage in a formal way the educational districts to use the PCs in new ways to enhance science education, including taking advantage of free internet subscriptions being offered to schools to access global science education resources.

The African Virtual University Project
In early April, 1998 the World Bank and the Ministry of Education launched the African Virtual University (AVU) in Ghana. The University of Ghana, the University of Cape Coast, and the University of Science and Technology have been selected as AVU sites. Each site has a computer lab and facilities for receiving satellite transmission. Students are welcome to register for distance learning courses, but the response has been cautious and slow. It might be that the program has made the distance learning courses seem to be demanding. Students on the Ghana campuses seem to be worried that they would jeopardize their performances on their required classes due to the demands from the AVU courses. Additionally the AVU courses provide a certificate but no academic credit from a recognized institution abroad. Lastly, at some of the AVU labs, students browse the Internet freely rather than pursuing the requirements of the program. A need for public access Internet is being demonstrated.

Partners for Internet in Education (PIE)
Made up of a dozen schools once called SchoolNet, it is partially funded by the USAID Leland Initiative. PIE has conducted several hands-on Web browsing sessions to teachers and administrators; students are invited to monthly meetings to show what they have produced through the use of computers and the Internet. PIE has recently signed a contract with USAID and the Library Board of Ghana to manage a walk-in telecentre at the Central Library in Accra. This centre is organized similarly to the CEDEP centre in Kumasi.

District Local Government Network of the Central Region
Funded by the Leland Initiative, the program networks the 15 regional department heads with the regional coordinating director, the 13 district assemblies and the Ministry of Local Government headquarters in Accra. The Ashanti regional administration have shown an interest in developing networking capacity.

Techiman Telecentre
The Centre grew from the use of e-mail, electronic pen pals and CD-ROM educational software by middle school students. It is sponsored by Reston Enterprises, which is supporting the development of the Techiman-Bono Web site. Adults and students use seven PCs to enhance basic computer literacy skills that they have acquired elsewhere. The center is linked to a neighboring school. Pupils and teachers have daily access as a supplement to the curriculum.

Upper West Commerce Association
This offers different and sometimes subsidized charges for software training for walk-in customers and corporate clients, international NGOS and others. The telephone, fax and photocopying services are on a commercial basis. Charges for e-mail subscriptions are based upon membership in the Association. The Web page advertises locally produced items in association with PeopleLink in the U.S., an organization which markets third world handicrafts.

ACC-Academic Computing Centre, Kokomemere, Accra
This is a public training centre sponsored by Zurich-based IT specialist, Gideon Chronia. It specializes in UNIX training and networking and free Web browsing. It uses a wireless link to connect several PCs to an Internet provider therefore reducing costs by avoiding the purchase of modems. The wireless link required a broadcasting license so there are no telephone charges for Internet connection.

Center for the Development of People (CEDEP)
This is a community development agency (NGO) with a ten-year history in Kumasi and neighboring districts. This year the organization opened a telecentre as part of its library on the top of a four-storey building in downtown Kumasi. Funding for the effort is provided by USAID. The telecentre provides commercial business and communication services (in competition with the private sector) and also delivers information-seeking services, for which a local commercial market is just now developing. Its potential to test the distance education market is high.

Appendix B: Sale of Service by Size of Telecentre
ServicePercentage
EntrySmallLarge
Telephony80%50%33%
Copying15%20%5%
Computer Service5%10%30%
Facilities0012%
Education020%20%
where Entry level = 2 employees
Small scale = 3-7 employees
Large = 8 or more employees

Appendix C: Telecentres by Orientation
Non-Commercial
Donor Financed
Non-Commercial
Non-Donor Financed
Commercial
Donor Financed
Commercial
Non-Donor Financed
University of Ghana c@feTechiman TelecentreInformart franchise
University of Cape Coast C@feBooks for Less-OsuInternetGhana C@fe-Accra
Navrongo Health ResearchFIDONET-Accra/LegonLooks Bus Centre-Medina
Opoku Ware Secondary SchoolAcademic Computing CentreEberene Bus Centre-Tarkwa
Science Resource CentresDispatch-Osu
AAU C@fe-AccraMorning Star School-Labone
African Virtual UniversityAsante Systems-UST-Kumasi
Partnership for Internet in EducationRidge School-Kumasi
DEDEP-KumasiAsante Akim MCT-Patriensah


Editorial history

Paper received 16 December 1999; revision received 19 December 1999; accepted for publication 27 December 1999


Contents Index

Copyright ©2000, First Monday

Role of Multipurpose Community Telecentres in Accelerating National Development in Ghana by Wilfred Owen, Jr. and Osei Darkwa
First Monday, volume 5, number 1 (January 2000),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue5_1/owen/index.html





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