Learning internet-think in Uzbekistan

March 13, 2005

The Digital Divide Network has a wonderful, thoughtful article on the use of the internet and computers in Uzbekistan, where students and teachers face both poverty and technological illiteracy.

A recurring question in international technology development is the relevance and local meaning of the technology — what if I have never used a computer? Does getting one really do anything without education behind it? More accurately, I think: How useful is my new laptop if it is the only source of light in my home? (That's a real example, I'm afraid.)

Technology is a tool and a process. The use of technology requires learning a skillset. This article provides an incisive look at just how hard this education can be in the real world.

Still struggling to free itself from a Soviet educational model, Uzbekistan's school system is on the verge of disintegration. Teacher salaries in the regions can average $20 a month. Few schools have working heat to warm them through the cold months, and electricity outages during the winter are the rule rather than the exception. Textbooks are often out-of-date or unavailable.

The Soviet system — which did install equipment in many schools long ago — saw computers as an end to themselves. Students were taught basic programming in "informatics" classes. Given their primitive state, the concept of using the computers for lessons other than those specifically about computers was never offered nor supported. For most of the day, computers remained untouched — gathering dust in a locked classroom, or occasionally displayed to visiting delegations as evidence of progress. This attitude towards computers remains to this day.

DDN Articles - Literacy, Technology & Expression in Uzbekistan