The Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) has partnered with its parent Ministry, the Ministry of ICT and Cybersecurity ,as well as the main Postal Service Operators, Zimbabwe Posts (Private) Limited (ZimPost) in implementing a programme to install at least 210 Information Communication Technology Centres across the country, better known in the country as Community Information Centres (CICS). The programme began in earnest in November 2016, but 12 had already been installed, as a pilot project. Since then, a total of 83 new such centres have been installed across the Country in the Country’s ten(10) provinces, namely Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Matabeleland North, Matabeleland South, Manicaland, Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo and Midlands. The remainder are expected to have been completed by June 2018.
COMPOSITION OF THE COMMUNITY INFORMATION CENTRE
The facilities that makeup a Community Information Centre (CIC) are;
- Renovated or constructed building
- Furniture for housing of computers, server and other equipment
- Internet connectivity through Optic Fibre or VSAT which is then accessed via cabled LAN and Wi-Fi.
- 10- to 32 Computers Per CIC depending on the Size of each CIC
- A minimum of twelve(12) computers for the training room including a projector and whiteboard
- Printing, scanning and fax facilities
- Gaming facilities Play station, ancillary equipment and related screens for children to learn decision-making skills.
Each centre is run by an administrator who is responsible for ensuring that the premises are kept clean and the equipment is well maintained. The administrator also attends to the needs of the users.
To enable beneficiaries to make use of the centres, as well as become ICT Literate, the Programme includes a training component, which is implemented at each CIC immediately after installation .This is done through a basic computer skills course, which incorporates appreciation of computer applications. Community members use the CIC computers in their day-to-day activities, their entrepreneurial and farming activities, as well as any small-scale economic projects they may have. It also provides a foundation for those who wish to take up careers the in the ICT field. The Course is open to all genders, as well as the young and the old. Training is carried out by community members, who are first trained by POTRAZ in its Train the Trainer Course.
IMPACT OF THE PROGRAMME
There have been notable positive impacts arising directly from the deployment of Community Information Centres throughout the country. The following are some of the identified positive impacts;
- Use by other Government Departments
Communities are now able to access and use the online platform, for applying for form 1 places, that was introduced by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education.
- Use by Members of the Public to Access banking Services
With most banks having gone digital, access to computers provided by CICs has come at the right time. Most banks now require individuals and corporates alike, to conduct their banking transactions online. This has seen a number of people visiting the CICs to learn how to use computers as well as to actually conduct their banking activities.
- Access to Computer training by Members of the Public
Members of the community without requisite academic qualifications demanded by most training institutions are just required to register and then get basic training in the use of ICTs. This has seen large numbers participating, notably vendors, traditional chiefs and other less privileged members of the communities, thus having a positive impact on bridging the digital divide.
The gaming corner, established in most of the CICs, is increasingly becoming very popular as it provides recreation, which keeps the youths away from mischief. While the impact of the gaming corner has not yet been scientifically measured, it is believed that this has had some positive impact when it comes to committing of petty crimes by the youths as these are kept intertained in these facilities.
- Platform for further Development and Studies in the area of ICTs
Members of the community who are receiving basic training of computers have already develop enthusiasm and interest in computers, which has prompted them to enquire on the possibilities of enhancing their skills through advanced training modules. This is evidenced by enquiries, though isolated at the moment, as to when they can expect to enrol for advanced computer training courses.
SUSTAINABILITY OF THE PROGRAMME
Most of the renovation work for this programme is carried out by unemployed members of the communities and those with small family businesses under the supervision of qualified supervisors. This reduces costs and ensures that while the project is currently funded by the Universal Service Fund, the strategy employed has been to ensure that the community information centres can sustain themselves even if the Universal Fund’s Revenues decline. To this end, a minimal charge of just $1, 00 per hour is charged to users in urban areas and fifty cents ($0.50) per hour in rural and remote areas, is levied to users, so that the cost of general maintenance and salaries of the staff manning the centres, are a subsidised by the charges, thereby freeing funds in the Universal Service Fund to fund installations at other centres.
CICs in PICTURES