Telecentres: what are they and why doesn’t Heeks like them?

As we discussed in class, Richard Heeks is not a fan of ‘telecentres’.  Heeks makes it clear in his work “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” that the focus of ICT4D should be on ICT production, not consumption. From this point he draws his motto “the data centre, not the telecentre,” meaning that back office applications of ICTs (ICTs for business management, planning etc) are more effective and have a greater impact than putting a few computers kiosks in rural India. Which brings us back to telecenters…but what exactly are they and what doesn’t he like about them?

According to “telecentre.org“, a telecentre is “a public place where people can find information, create, learn, and communicate with others while developing digital skills through access to information and communication technology.” In short, telecentres strive to give under-served populations access to ICTs. On a larger scale, telecentres are designed to: promote community development, reduce isolation for rural livelihoods, bridge the digital divide, promote health education, empower youth, and create economic opportunities for all.

This all sounds good and well, but without any computer training, or skills training in business management etc, small businesses aren’t just going to pop up, and money is not just going to flow into communities as a result of these technology hubs. Think about it; if you were given a computer, but had no instruction about how to use it, or any understanding of the potential gains that could come from using it, you would probably give up pretty quickly. Heeks mentions the abandoned computer kiosks in India in his article as an example of a failed ICT consumption development project. I think that a lack of digital literacy, motivation, and access to the telecentres contribute to failures like this one.

Plus, it’s not like most citizens of developing countries have a lot of free time to go experiment with the ICTs at the telecentre; most of them work hard jobs and long hours in order to survive. In addition, it is unlikely that many adults in the developing world have the resources and economic freedom to go be entrepreneurs, start small businesses etc, so the telecentres provided might not be very useful to them.

I think telecenters can work, if they provide formal training and certification, like this initiative.  But I understand Heeks’ distaste; telecentres come off as very top-down development, and we know that throwing technology at the developing world is not the answer.

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4 responses to “Telecentres: what are they and why doesn’t Heeks like them?

  • mattbrandeburg

    I would like to know the authors thoughts on medium developed countries having telecentres, or in a variant perhaps we could consider them “internet cafes”. I think when we look at the arab spring context in particular, have a proliferation of access centers allowed for unique conditions for information flows in many countries. While I agree with the need to train and educated in LDCs, I am curious as to what impact telecentres have on more developed nations.

  • laurag063

    Thank you for clarifying this, because I was wondering in class what telecenters were and why Heeks was hating on them so much. I also really liked how you addressed “digital literacy.” I find it really interesting that traditional literacy is still a huge issue in the developing world, yet now that society has evolved to rely so heavily on technology, we now have the additional issue of digital illiteracy as well. I think that this is something that is often overlooked! People need to learn to crawl before they can walk!!!

  • jdywest7

    Great post. I appreciate you bringing up the issue of citizens in developing countries not having leisure time to understand ICTs and telecenters. Although the idea of telecenters are great, they are also very unrealistic for people who working everyday and all day just to make a few dollars to feed their family and pay bills.

  • elladove

    I had been confused on what exacltly a telecentre was, thank you for expaining it. I think when looking at the success and failures of these telecentre we need to look at some sort of “intimidation factor”. These telecentres are essentially aimed towards adults, and I don’t know very many adults, no matter where you are from, that like to feel stupid. Well, if you’ve never owned a computer, or worked with one, how else are you going to feel when you cannot even understand the concept of a mouse. Thus, I beleive that vital to the success of telecentres we must see training done in a professional mannor, allowing for knowledge to catch up with need.

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