The Agony of Being Left Behind [Archives:1999/16/Viewpoint]

April 19 1999

I have just participated in an international technology conference held in Montreal. The pace of change and growth in this sector left me baffled. But more importantly, it left me worried about the fate of my country, Yemen. The Republic of Yemen continues to grapple with the issues of people’s basic illiteracy in Arabic. Today, half of the population cannot read in Arabic. Yet, the rest of the world is moving forward towards technology that is beyond imagination and comprehension, even for those of us who are attempting to keep up with the progress of technology.
What will be the fate of societies like Yemen that are being left behind?
And mind you, we are not alone in this. About 80% of the world’s population is still unable to keep pace with the revolutions in the computer and communications world. But, some 40% of the world can catch up in one way or another. It is the fate of the remaining 40% of the world that is hanging in the balance. Yemenis are part of that 40% which has no reasonable chance of catching up, in any foreseeable future. Education is the most obvious and logical ticket to the future. But here we have another problem. Our educators themselves have not been able to catch up.
So, there is no chance that they will teach the young folks how to keep up. I think one of the solutions is to start small, short-term training programs.
Forget about the universities and other giant institutions. We must focus on small training and educational organizations, which can quickly adapt to change. The efforts of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training can help in this regard. Technology is the lifeline of our future. In many countries, political leaders and parties have made it a point to start small training centers for the youth. They call them cyber cafes or youth clubs or whatever. In Yemen, this has not happened. I am calling on Dr. Abdul-Karim Al-Iryani, Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the People’s General Congress – himself a computer-literate person – to consider establishing such centers. It will help the country, and it could also help his party. International donors can also help by starting simple, grass-roots level efforts in this regard. It takes a small amount of money to establish these centers, but their impact can be enormous.
I hope this will happen soon.