Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have become a relevant component in developing a nation, especially in Africa. Zambia is one of the few countries in Southern Africa that have embraced ICT and this is evidenced by the inclusion and recognition of Information and Communication Technology in the National Development Plan.
For the past four and half years, Zambia has seen development which was never there in the last 20 years combined. There is no doubt this development is linked to the embracement of ICTs in national development undertakings. Let’s just discuss a few areas and sectors that have seen this development through the evidence-based approach:
- ROAD DEVELOPMENT
It was practically impossible to develop and raise the standard of all roads in the country without having a proper and sustainable financial source. The willingness of the government to invest in road development was also on the hyper side but the question is, where will the funds be coming from? The task is very daunting. Not even the taxes and other incomes from the Zambia Revenue Authority will manage to supply the funds for road development. Nevertheless, a solution was found. Toll Gates, which was only possible with inclusion of ICT. It called for an improved network infrastructure, acquisition of high-end computer systems with a back-up or centralized storage system, engagement of Toll management software for accountability purposes, considering Swipe services to reduce handling of cash, and so on. The government was and is still willing to get involved and make a sustainable financial source for road development. As of today, the good news is that all major Toll Gates are half-way through to completion and two of them are operating on the test phase. There is no doubt that Zambia’s roads will be fully ‘furnished’ in the next three (3) years.
The education system in Zambia has drastically changed in the last four (4) years. This is something that we have been waiting for; the introduction of ICT in the education system. This is not just the use of ICT but also the learning of and interaction with ICTs. The new education curriculum, which was first implemented in 2014, demands that every child in school has interaction with ICTs, including those in early childhood education. Learning will become easier especially that everyone will have access to the internet and information resources. On the other hand, the PANOS 2011 Report revealed that AfriConnect, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, “have been piloting a project aimed at bringing web-based eLearning to schools in different parts of the country. Some 20 schools have been provided with free or low-cost connectivity, plus teacher training and support. A large website of free learning materials has been built, based on the Zambian curriculum. The project is now moving to the next phase with more schools and a more detailed study of how teaching and learning can be improved and what inputs are needed. The objective is to move from the traditional chalk-and-talk pedagogy to enquiry-based learning, while at the same time bringing the option of lifelong learning to people who have already left school. With collaboration from Intel, Cambridge University and the University of Zambia, this project will revolutionize the way students learn in Zambia.” All this has been as a result of the ICT policy that was developed from 2001 to 2006. It establishes a framework for the future direction of ICTs within Zambia. Consultation with diverse stakeholders highlighted five priority areas which include; human capacity development, agriculture, education, health, and the development of ICT services.
There are two organizations that are actively involved in bringing farmers together at all levels; The Zambia National Farmers Union (ZNFU) and CropServe. ZNFU introduced the SMS update system which provided information on commodity prices to all farmers and can be accessed on any mobile phone. Farmers who have produced commodities can get the best price for their produce and can easily get information for potential buyers in their region or district. CropServe is a supplier to the farming community and has engaged SMS and web-based services that provide guidance and pricing for seeds and is also offering veterinary services through the same channels.
In 2014, I decided to visit the nearest hospital to my workplace, for a medical check-up. Expecting to be given a notebook for health details at the reception, I was interviewed and later handed a Health Care Card. I knew what it meant because am in the IT industry. It meant that we are shifting from the conventional, traditional way of keeping client and patient data and information to a computerized storage system. The overall objective of the Ministry of Health is to have a centralized storage of patient and/or client data and information. The Health Care Card is a solution to many medical myths and misconceptions that arise from mistakes by medical practitioners who work out of their code of ethics by prescribing wrong medication.
Looking at the sectors of development discussed above, it is very imperative that we appreciate ICTs in Zambia. At this stage, there is no going back. Zambia is already engulfed with ICT in every sector. The challenge is for policy makers and influencers to keep these milestones and improve on them by engaging relevant stakeholders.