Speakers tackle ICT sector issues at Think Tank launch

Speakers tackle ICT sector issues at Think Tank launch

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

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The importance of the need to accelerate the information and communication technology (ICT) industry in the island as well as increase gender equity were just a few of the topics tackled at the launch of the eGov Jamaica Limited Think Tank last Friday.The initiative, which will see the planning, execution and implementation of ideas from Jamaicans who want to actively contribute to the ICT industry, was officially launched at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters in Kingston.

In order to submit an idea, the person can visit the eGov Jamaica website and look for the Think Tank link. A national portal is set to open soon to facilitate more ideas. Once the idea is submitted, it will be reviewed by a committee that will then decide whether or not it will move to the implementation stage.

With regards to growth and development of the ICT industry, Cliff Hughes, who was one of the guest speakers at the launch, spoke to the importance of fast-tracking the ICT industry in the island, noting that a country like Cuba, who due to the American trade embargo was previously unable to tap into the sector, is quickly getting on stream and making the most of the industry where they can.

He added that in the case of Jamaica, the population of the country is also rolling with the technological advances and so the Government needs to ensure that they too are on track with what is happening.

“Jamaicans today are getting ahead despite the problems and challenges. The 30 per cent of our students who make it to universities, tertiary institutions, they are not waiting for Mr (Andrew) Holness' BPO jobs… they don't pay well. Those Jamaicans are already exploring their opportunities and their dreams online, while some of us are asleep at two in the morning, they are already online in London, Berlin, Tokyo… doing business,” Hughes stated.

He made the point that in today's world, access to the Internet is important. He noted too that several areas of national importance including crime, education and land titling can be vastly improved with the use of the relevant technologies.

Hughes maintained that this was not to say that “they would be starting from scratch” as he gave several examples where he has seen ICT initiatives in action, such as iMaps Jamaica, which is an interactive map of Jamaica that allows users to spatially identify any parcel of land in Jamaica, and access related land information for free online.

“There are huge opportunities for us as a people, us as an administration… to make the lives of our people better, qualitatively,” Hughes said.

He added that an area that needs improvement is security and that it must take into consideration the technological upgrade of elements such as the “big book”, which is used in police stations to record pertinent information as well as other needed technology to help combat against crimes.

While Hughes offered meaningful suggestions as to what could be done to improve the various sectors, Ayanna Samuels, who is an international development consultant specialising in gender and the ICT industry, in her presentation demonstrated through several examples how implemented ICT systems were already aiding in the development of areas such as agriculture and finance.

“For example from Sudan, there is the largest irrigation project in the world, in terms of using a combination of satellites and mobile phones to improve crop production and I found this very interesting because the write-up showed before the project began a lot of farmers were a little dismissive of the value they thought they would gain, but using the ability of satellite imagery and mobile phones, we were able to quadruple wheat yields in some instances,” Samuels said.

This, she explained, was done through information provided about crop yields, humidity and other helpful tips that was uploaded to a project website, where specialists working on the website would later send text messages to farmers advising them of what to do and when to do it.

A similar initiative is currently employed locally, by way of the meteorological service's website, where there is a link for farmers to access the necessary weather information to guide planting habits. Farmers can also send questions and receive the relevant agricultural information from the service via text messaging.

Samuels mentioned another activity to be implemented in August this year in Kenya, Africa, where through an online platform called 'Consumer Wallet', the informal financial sector of the society, which is heavily cash based will be able to be measured based on different variables. This was developed to respond to challenges businesses faced with regards to quantifying a consumer's spending habits.

However, the consultant stressed that while there are numerous opportunities for development in the ICT sector, one issue that needs to be desperately addressed is gender equity as there is no way to capitalise on the sector if both genders “do not feel they have a seat at the table”.

She said the problems, based on a recent conversation, could lie with the fact that there are not as many women in the sector, as many women are not giving themselves the opportunity to be at the table, as there are cultural stereotypes in place to make them feel it is more than can be achieved.

Samuels stated that the interventions ought not to be brought in at the university level or even primary school level, but earlier, as research recently published in the Journal of Science has shown that as early as the age of six, girls already consider boys more likely to show brilliance and more suited to be really smart at activities than their own gender.

“This study was done in the United States, but still, in Jamaica, if we are frank with ourselves, when we think about the toys we give our children we still tend to give our girls dolls and play houses with a nice little kitchen and a little stove and our boys are likely to get toy cars,” Samuels stated.

She explained that the types of toys do have an impact as even through toy cars, boys' hand-eye coordination becomes more acute and they quickly develop motor skills, among other skills.

The girls, on the other hand, are socialised into the traditional roles that a woman is expected to play through the types of toys they are given. She stressed that these decisions do have an impact, and listed as an example that what it means is that when it comes to choosing subjects in fourth form, a lot of the girls are not choosing the science subjects because they may not feel capable enough to do them.

With regards to the overall issue of gender inequity in the ICT sector, Samuels stated a big part of the problem is that there is not enough reliable research on the participation, position and number of women in the industry.

Samuels maintained that gender inequity is not just a problem for women but that economically, it can help the country if both genders are able to contribute to their full capacity.

— Javene Skyers

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