January is traditionally reserved for analysts to predict what is in store for the rest of the year. It is said that the best way to predict the future is to create it. In other words, visualize what should be the best outcome and proceed to craft the strategies to actualize it.
Having declared itself as “digital”, the government is expected to deepen the reach and use of ICTs in its operations, while simultaneously spurring investments in the sector.
The Laptops for Standard One project seems to fit the bill for this objective perfectly. Whereas political statements that the laptops will be delivered within the next three months have been made, very little data is publicly shared with respect to the implementation details. For a project of this magnitude and public interest, this is a bit mysterious if not outright weird.
The size, type, nature and production of the proposed digital educational content should no longer be a secret so late into the project, otherwise the requisite uptake by teachers, parents, publishers and other stakeholders will be compromised.
HARDWARE BEFORE SOFTWARE
Furthermore, it is professionally wrong to provide hardware specifications without detailing the digital content and software specification given that it is software that should drive specifications for the hardware.
Timely delivery of laptops seems to have taken the highest priority at the expense of what will be taught, when and how it will be taught using the laptops. Questions still linger on regarding the sustainability, maintenance, nature and ownership of the digital content. Many still doubt the wisdom behind the “tunnel-vision” targeting of Standard One pupils over Form Ones or even first-year University students.
Buying hardware (laptops) before ironing out pedagogical details of the digital content is like buying a tractor (hardware) and then later on been forced to convert it into a “drive-to-the-office” vehicle – having belatedly discovered that the targeted land terrain (software) is beyond or below the capacity of the tractor.
The English are familiar with this situation and described it - appropriately – as putting the cart before the horse. Either way, the success or failure of the Laptop project may - rightly or wrongly - settle the question of whether the government is truly digital in its DNA. Most critics still believe the “digital” aspect was purely electioneering rhetoric without substance and are waiting patiently to be proved one way or the other.
Another defining project in 2014 will be the stalled digital TV migration project. A successful migration from the analog broadcasting onto the digital broadcasting will unlock more radio spectrum resources that could be taken up by telecommunication companies to introduce newer and more efficient communication technologies such as the 4G or LTE networks.
Whereas the digital TV antagonists have gone to court, it is never too late to find an out-of-court settlement that would spur new broadcasting channels without compromising the perceived technical independence of the existing ones.
Finally, the continued delay in appointing the CEO and Directors of the newly formed ICT Authority is likely to impact negatively on the successful automation of internal government functions. Big ICT projects in departments of Treasury, Transport, Lands, Devolution and others are emerging and ongoing, without due diligence from the ICT Authority – just like in the old days.
The ICT Authority faces the high risk of resistance if they attempt to reclaim their oversight mandate much later in the year when such projects have progressed significantly and entrenched their own “way of doing things”
The envisioned outcome for a successful ICT Authority is defining and maintaining information standards to support the “many departments, but one data view” of government records as outlined in a previous article titled How digital is the government?
In other words, your tax, passport, driving license, land registration and other details must be interconnected and accessible by different government departments in order to streamline and efficiently provide public services. Whereas technologies exist to do the integration, lack of supporting legislation, particularly to protect citizen data from abuse may present multiple implementation challenges.
As they say, the devil is in the details. 2014 could be a successful ICT year depending on how well the details behind the above ICT initiatives are floated and thrashed out.