omorrow is World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) and this year the theme will be “ICT entrepreneurship for social impact”, in accordance with Resolution 68 and as endorsed by the International Telecommunication Union.
According to the ITU, ICT entrepreneurs, start-ups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a particularly relevant role in ensuring economic growth in a sustainable and inclusive manner. They are involved in the development of innovative ICT-enabled solutions with a remarkable potential to make a long-lasting impact in global, regional and national economies and as an important source of new jobs, especially for youth, in the current knowledge economy.
This theme is in line with ITU’s workin unlocking the potential of ICTs for young innovators and entrepreneurs, innovative SMEs, start-ups and technology hubs as drivers of innovative and practical solutions for catalysing progress in achieving international sustainable development goals, with a focus on SMEs from developing countries.
In Sri Lanka, the national unity government is giving the highest priority to digital technology and knowledge based economic growth. Thankfully the focus is both urban and rural, with the vision of going towards the vital all-inclusive growth strategy, where millions of poor and lower income rural people, mainly the youth will be liberated from the dole or charity trap to become full time partners in progress with their human dignity being restored.
This initiative for digital technology and knowledge based economy comes under the smart guidance of the dynamic young Minister Harin Fernando who is in-charge of digital technology and telecommunication. Directly linked with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Cabinet’s high powered Economic Affairs Committee, the ministry says its strategy is to improve the digital infrastructure of Sri Lanka and facilitate the enhancement of digital ecosystems.
The Ministry says it plans to utilize the ICT for improving governance; enhance the ICT policies, legislations and standards, improve the use of ICT applications in key sectors, improve citizens’ engagement or participation in ICT enabled society, facilitation of ICT industry development and facilitate trade and business sectors through ICT.
In a road map from 2015-2020, Telecommunication and digital infrastructure have been identified as two of the key areas that would define the future of the nation. According to the Ministry, Sri Lanka had a global rank of 116 out of 166 countries and a regional rank of 19 out of 29 countries in the ICT Development Index (IDI), in 2013. Also, Sri Lanka has a global rank of 76 out of 148 countries in the Networked Readiness Index (NRI). Sri Lanka ranks at 74 out of 193 countries in the United Nations E-Government Development Index. Smart indeed.
The Department of Census and Statistics in its latest estimate says at least one computer is available in 22% of households of the country. That is one out of every five households is having a computer. The rate is about 36% in the Urban Sector while the Rural and Estate Sector show 20.4% and 4.6%. Urgent and effective steps need to be taken to bridge this digital technology gap before it grows in to the monstrosity we see in the gap between the rich and the poor.
The highest as in many sectors is the Western Province where we have an availability rate of 33.0% whereas the lowest availability is reported from the North Central Province. Over the survey period from 2004 till 2014, overall percentage has increased sharply from 3.8% to 16.6%. The Urban sector shows the highest computer literacy rate of 34.6% among residential sectors. The computer literacy rate for the Rural and Estate sectors are 23.8% and 6.2%. Among the provinces, the highest level of computer literacy is reported from the Western Province which has a rating of 34.3% while the lowest percentage is reported from the NCP. This “Kolambata kiri gamata kekiri” gap must be reduced immediately.
While the digital growth rates are smart, we need to make our youth especially aware of the need to stay on track with the positive usage instead of switching to the negative side which led to some tragic rail track deaths during the past few weeks. Positive energy will produce positive thoughts and attitudes. We need to be smart enough to stay on this network.