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In rural areas, internet training geared towards generating incomes must draw on local people’s needs. Lessons learned from a pilot project carried out in Peru. [ By Jutta Niemann ]

It is internationally accepted that the most important components of sustainable development projects in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) are the three “Cs”:
– connectivity (the technical infrastructure),
– capacity building (training and education) and
– content (adequate information in appropriate formats).

FITEL is Peru’s state fund for the support of ICT projects in rural areas. It has found that, in provincial Peru, the internet mainly serves entertainment purposes so far. However, FITEL wants to promote economically useful applications. With German support, FITEL therefore carried out a pilot project to train local instructors.

The basic principle was “train the trainer”. Residents of a village were to be put in the position to teach others in their village to wisely and productively exploit the new opportunities. Local people need to know how to find, examine and apply relevant information. A quarter of Peru’s 28 million people live in the country. Of this quarter, 70 % are poor and 26 % are illiterate.

FITEL subsidises projects carried out by private telecommunications companies, since investment costs in rural areas are generally very high. The relevant criteria for funding are factors such as population density, infrastructure quality and also medium-term profitability.

At the time of the project, 550 villages had been provided with internet connections. The project covered those 160 villages in which satellite telephones had also been installed, including locations with difficult access low in the Amazon basin or high in the Andes. FITEL contracted an Peruvian non-governmental organisation to
– select instructors,
– teach them in three-day courses in provincial towns,
– let them work in the villages, and
– provide supervision and a final report.

The instructors were selected with the help of local authorities on the basis of a questionnaire specifically designed for the purpose. Prior knowledge in human resource management, computer and internet use as well as business sense were relevant. The ideal candidates were expected to live in a target village, because instructors need the trust of the local community. The age range was 18 to 65 years. They were to have completed at least four years of school and preferably have attended secondary school.

The three-day courses provided a basic understanding of computer issues, mass communication, publishing and small-business management. Doing that on a nation-wide base was a huge logistical challenge. Training venues had to be coordinated, equipped with computers and internet access. Alternatively, internet cafés could be hired. The courses were in great demand; and even people living in villages without internet access registered. The need to travel long hours or even days was accepted.

FITEL immediately learned three important lessons from the train-the-trainer seminars:
– Groups were often too heterogeneous, participants’ prior knowledge too diverse. While some were already confident with computers, others even struggled to use a mouse.
– Some instructors for the three-day courses lacked pedagogical skills. For example, too few of them used role-playing to let future village instructors practice resolving conflicts.
– Didactical aspects were also lacking in what was taught. The village instructors were not given enough information on what to bear in mind when training others.

Sessions till midnight

A supervision visit two months after the seminar provided insights into how Denis, a village instructor in Tamshiyacu in the Amazonian lowlands, was getting on. There was a problem with the local internet café’s online connection, so Denis depended on the goodwill and support of a local school with online computers to carry out training. Power supply was unreliable. Nonetheless, demand was so high that Denis taught three sessions, finishing at midnight.

One of the older students, a farmer aged about 55 years, was interested in information about pineapples. Could he perhaps sell his produce at a higher profit? Denis guided him to the website of Peru’s Ministry of Agriculture, which offered studies on agricultural pests and wholesale prices in Lima. The farmer did not understand the academic Spanish, however. There is in fact hardly any information on the internet written in an appropriate language and format for Peruvian farmers.

Denis says that he would have liked “more support from those in Lima in charge of the project”. FITEL and the implementing agency set up a hotline from 6am to 10pm, but satellite connections demand a lot of patience. A further lesson learned from supervision was that the implementing agency had focussed on the target group of village instructors like Denis, and had not thoroughly assessed end-user results.

The pilot project provided a good base to start a national information-literacy programme. The selection questionnaire and the handbooks can be made further use of. Incentives for local instructors matter too, though. Initially, most incentives were not monetary, including trips to seminar locations and a “leader” status in one’s home village. Only expenses for village workshops were covered. However, some financial incentives would also be appropriate, as 60 of 240 instructors who had participated in train-the-trainer seminars later deserted the programme. The other 180 instructors, however, provided training for about 3,000 people in the next six months.

The most important lesson, however, is that training for adults in making economically meaningful use of the internet should build on content with immediate benefits. If such content is not available, training preparations should include contacting other government agencies (in sectors such as health, agricultural information and e-government, for instance) to make related services available. A competition for the most useful or most visited rural website might also provide interesting incentives.

In any event, ICT capacity building should tackle the third “C”, content. Programmes must make sense in the daily life of rural people, rather than be imposed as ready-made concepts from urban powers-that-be.