Digital Clubhouses: e-Points Near to All

At a time when no contemporary workplace or educational process cannot be imagined without using computers, there are still people in the world who haven't had contact with a PC, or know about the opportunities opening through use of information and communication technologies (ICT). Macedonia, like much of the world, faces the problem of digital divide, both internally—between urban and rural areas, between the youth  and the elderly, between the wealthy and the poor—and externally, between us and some of the countries in the region, and especially with the EU and USA.

According to analysis by Metamorphosis Foundation only 50,3% of Macedonian citizens have been trained to a minimal level which would enable them to use e-services. Most of the research done in Republic of Macedonia show that around 70% of the citizens have never used the internet. The citizens who have no computer skills include those with lower educational level, the unemployed, those older than 40, inhabitants of the rural areas, and similar groups. Considering the fact that this group is more than a Million strong, there's real danger of widening the digital divide alongside the transformation towards knowledge-based economy. On the other hand, the fact that around 60% of the members of this population expressed willingness to acquire ICT skills remains a source of encouragement.

Considering the unavailability of broadband internet access to large portions of the country, due to technical or financial reasons, the best achievable solution for reaching towards many of these people are the e-Points, which have also been recommended by the National Strategy for Information Society Development (2005).

E-inclusiveness is a way to overcome the digital divide, which in essence represents the division between those who have, and those who have no access to digital technologies. It means equal opportunity for access to the ICTs by all people. Increasing the number of people who have access and knowledge of ICT will increase the number of people who seek e-services, leading to increase of savings and accountability of public administration, lowering unnecessary expenses in the business sector, and increasing the responsibility and transparency in the communication between the citizens and the nongovernmental sector.

A widespread way to bridge the digital divide worldwide is opening of so called telecenters, e-points, PIAPs (Public Internet Access Points), or digital clubhouses. They all can look very different, but all have a common element: technology use for social development. They are public places where people have access to computers, internet and other technologies helping them find information or communicate with others, toning their computer skills in the process. These centers or clubs lower the isolation of certain isolated groups, population in remote areas, those with underprivileged social status.

Ana Trpovska

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