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Strengthening Our Youth! Weakening Our Olos?

Strengthening Our Youth! Weakening Our Olos?

By John Roughan
29 November 2004

It had to happen at some time and so it did down in Sa'a, South Malaita, recently. Solomons' latest communications tool, Pfnet, had finally arrived in the village and young people were truly excited about linking up with the rest of the world through the Internet marvel. They proudly showed off their newly acquired connection to everyone and anyone who came within earshot. It was a great day for the village for now Pfnet had finally landed in their neck of the woods and youth would no longer feel so isolated.

A local village Big Man was informed of the Internet wonder . . . a whole new world lay at hand right here in the village with a mere press of a computer button. Unfortunately the first images offered up to the olo proved upsetting. Pictures of women and girls in various stages of undress, nothing startling, filled the screen and the upset old man demanded that these be put out of his sight at once.

An unfortunate and unnecessary incident no doubt! Things could have been so different and they are so in most places. But this story illustrates the point that there is a growing and frustrating gap currently rooting within villages in spite of all our good intentions. Of course Pfnet--the computer linkage to the email and Internet world at a village level--is a powerful step into the 21st century. Of course this new technological link joining village world with the modern is most welcome by young and the not so young. But the cost of enriching one group within the traditional village set up by seeming to disempowered others grows and becomes more serious. What can be done about it?

Unfortunately, the pattern of enriching one group at the expense of weakening an other is not new to the Solomons. Honiara's historical absorption of 70% of national riches has had disastrous results for village life. This same pattern happened in past years and continues to occur even today. Honiara as centre--jobs, education, entertainment, sports, luxury, etc.--while village life struggles have been at work since before independence. Uneven development growth has marked Solomons history over its past 26 years. Modernization moved along this path. In fact such a process greatly contributed to our recent Social Unrest years. The proper response, however, must not be to reduce or slow down Pfnet's dynamic growth to the village but to insure that other sections of village life are not left behind.

It was mentioned last week that given the choice, the Solomons older generation were seriously keen to join the Information Superhighway as were youth, but they thought of it in a different way. Eight village groups along the West Are'are coast of Malaita, for instance, opted for a 2-way radio system rather than other communication links like community radio, fax, computer or telephone systems. For an older generation the 2-way radio setup favours their skill base: they have basic good hearing and proven language ability. Neither key board skills nor basic computer knowledge are necessary in a 2-way radio system

These two communication systems--Pfnet and 2-way radio--are neither antagonistic nor incompatible with each other. In fact they complement each other quite well. The 2-way radio system is much more than a communications tool bringing shipping information, death and sickness notices and people's need for quick responses. During our country's Social Unrest years, for instance, when nurses found it difficult and at times dangerous to visit Honiara, the Health Ministry used its far flung 2-way radio set up to conduct distant education courses. The 2-way radio system allowed clinic nurses to remain at post, undergo upgrading courses for their professional life and still remain present to family and community during the nation's trying time. Pfnet, for its part, better links the village with the wider world. Both are needed!

The computer with all its great potential has at the same time in some areas of the world widen the gap--the Digital Divide gap--between those saturated with information while others in much the same situation find themselves in a information desert. A modern government communications strategy combining the wonders of Pfnet and the practicalities of a 2-way radio system could go some way in reducing the Digital Divide within the Solomons.


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