With barely 37 per cent of adults able to read, the Gambia is looking to the Internet as a tool to push education into its rural areas and provide a lifelong incentive for learning.
Barely two years after opening its first gateway to the Internet, all 12 cities are now linked and private sector use is growing.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which jointly funded national access to the worldwide web under its Internet Initiative for Africa, is also looking to build literacy and distribution of the 'printed' word online. It supports the publication of books in national languages and the Internet has made it possible for regional education offices and some individual schools to download them at remote locations. Teachers are now able to share new ideas and information and receive training materials through local web-connected offices, avoiding the slow-turning wheels of hard copy distribution.
In a nation where there is not an abundance of literature, community web stations are seen as an incentive for primary school leavers to maintain their skills and not relapse into illiteracy. The national telephone company GAMTEL has plans to support connectivity by offering low-cost or no-cost telephone connections to institutions for health, education and women's affairs, together with subsidized user charges and Internet access for secondary schools.
On the back of these and other initiatives, the Gambia will celebrate Internet Awareness Week (28 May - 3 June) to help mobilize decisionmakers, schools, the business community, the media, and the general public to access community Internet stations and explore available services. The week will also serve as a prelude to a meeting of the Commonwealth Telecom Organization, which will be hosted by the Gambia, from 5 - 9 June.
A sampling of the Gambia's Internet evolution is available on www.ungambia.gm/undp (See "News & Events"), the website of the national telephone company www.gamtel.gm and through the nation's first privately owned internet service provider www.qanet.gm.
Source : UNDP. May 26, 2000