To computerize or not to computerize! [Archives:2006/913/Community]

January 19 2006

By:Osama Al-Shar'abi
[email protected]

Information technology (IT) and the ability to effectively use it, is a critical factor in accessing wealth, power and knowledge at the dawn of the new millennium. The Arabic world is considered, by and large, one of the least computerized and technologically underdeveloped regions in the world which makes it utterly impossible for the Arabic countries to compete at an international level in manufacturing technology or providing high quality advanced services. There are many reasons for such technological apartheid ranging from the absence of a proper infrastructure, to the lack of qualified personnel in the field of technology and the discouraging IT market. In this article, I will try to highlight these obstacles in a Yemeni context.

In Yemen, the infrastructure required to use computers is far from adequate. We have no reliable power supplies to begin with; electricity blackouts have become a routine in our daily lives. The telecommunication infrastructure is another issue with most of the country having no phone lines to say the least. Most rural areas, accommodating 70% of the population, have virtually no network connectivity. This contributes to the large computer illiteracy and makes information technology inaccessible for a large segment of the population. Also, in a fast-changing world, training is a must to keep up with the technology pace and the new developments in the field. Yet, the limited IT-related programs offered by Yemeni universities are very primitive and do not train good academicians nor are they tailored to satisfy the market needs. Universities make no effort to recruit highly qualified instructors or researchers in computer science disciplines, and tend to piggyback teaching computer courses on faculty members from other engineering departments. There are even students with IT bachelor degrees from Yemeni universities who get jobs as teachers in the faculties they graduated from. I made these observations after talking with many computer science students and faculty members during my last visit to Yemen. This poor IT training is reflected in the poor outcomes and greatly affects our transition into a more computerized society. Another issue contributing to our technological backwardness is the discouraging IT market. Most businesses in Yemen are unaware of the importance of computerizing their systems and by how much their productivity could increase, and as a result they don't seem to be interested in IT products. And because of the lack of established technology providers, businesses that choose to computerize their systems will most likely outsource their jobs abroad. This affects the economy at large by not utilizing technology for an increased productivity and contributes very little demand for local IT!

In a poor country like Yemen, we have to utilize in every resource we have, and brain power is one of our best treasures. This could only be achieved by providing a proper infrastructure for information technology to prevail, establishing cutting edge training centers and research facilities and encouraging investment in the IT market. But in an ad-hoc system of government like the one we have, it seems quite impossible for Yemen to be computerized anytime soon.