6.8 Technology for Rural YEO: IT and AT

Technology is a critical component of every YEO initiative serving rural young people, whether “up front” as young people interface with new platforms or “behind the scenes” supporting global interaction among staff and partners. High tech information technologies at once open opportunities for rural young people, and threaten to leave them on the wrong side of the digital divide. Appropriate technologies – old and new – continue to offer significant benefits to rural populations including young people. And, both traditional communication technologies like radio and newer “dumb” and “smart” phone technologies play important roles in linking rural young people to information that supports career and enterprise development. This section highlights some debates, innovations and lessons in the “it’s all good” world of technology for rural YEO.

Who Uses and Benefits from IT

IT solutions reduce transaction costs, open new markets, and reach under-served populations, right? IT solutions seem well suited to overcome some of the key challenges faced by rural young people. Free education addressed the problem of rural families not able to fay for training. Mobile money transfer can help parents send money to children when and where they need it, and help young migrating workers to easily send money home. On-line job listings can safe enormous time and open job opportunities to rural youth. SMS information about market prices for crops helps farmers of all ages. On-line selling would reduce the cost of marketing and help homebound young women earn money. And crowdsourcing offers opportunities for individuals, small businesses and community-based organizations to access funders around the world. Potential benefits seem game changing.

However, there are skeptics.  Some seek data, “ The dearth of data on mobile-based youth financial services has not stifled enthusiasm for them.”[1]  A significant portion of rural young people face significant barriers to benefitting from IT solutions, including:

  • Access to hardware: mobile phones, smart phones, computers
  • Access to services: cell phone and high-speed internet
  • Language and/or literacy, numeracy
  • Basic education that enables one to take advantage of higher education opportunities
  • Relevance of content provided to specific rural situations

All of the above issues are bigger challenges for girls and young women, for lower income populations and for more isolated or remote rural communities. Despite stereotypes, there is no evidence that young people in developing countries use mobile phones and IT more than the adult population.[2] Finally, detractors raise the issue that information – without accompanying support services like capital, practical training, distributions and marketing networks, social support and mentorship, etc. – has little impact. In fact, the vast majority of people who register for free on-line courses do not even complete the course.

Where does that leave us?  “… the allure of mobile [and other IT] solutions as an accelerator … remains compelling, and if the potential is as great as it seems – even if still in theory – then the imperative to finds solutions to these obstacles is stronger than ever.”[3]

[1] Zimmerman and Arnold, 2013.

[2] Proctor and Lucchesi, 2012.

[3] Zimmerman and Arnold, 2013.