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4 Reasons Why Telecentres Matter in the Mobile Phone Era

By Guest Writer on January 30, 2024

internet access challenges youth

In rural areas of Africa, information and communication services provided by telecentres are instrumental in community and national development as well as improving the living standards of people.

Telecentres are developmental agents for the communities they serve.

For example, Telecentres were critical in assisting the Tanzanian government in implementing e-government services in rural regions, as people in communities were able to access e-health services and digital information resources on disease prevention through the internet provided by the telecentres.

Telecentres are distinguished by the presence of a wide range of ICT resources that enhance education, computer training, communication, social interaction and business support, which are made available to individuals of disadvantaged communities.

Telecentres act as one-stop centres that disseminate knowledge and provide ICTs, information services, and physical space which allow the general population to achieve educational goals, social goals, and economic development.

Are Telecentres Relevant in Mobile Phone Era?

With the coming of mobile technologies, some services that telecentres provide such as internet can easily be accessed through these mobile technologies.

Moreover, recent studies provide evidence of an increasing diffusion and uptake of mobile technologies such as smartphones in developing countries. Mobile technologies among the people in rural areas play an important role in sustainable rural development as they ensure quick access to information.

This has caused debates on the relevance of telecentres in the age of mobile technologies. Some argue that majority of people using telecentres would have their ICT needs satisfied using mobile technologies.  Two main questions exist through this debate:

  • Are telecentres still relevant with mobile technologies?
  • If yes, why do people still use telecentres in the age of mobile technologies?

Therefore, “Why do people use telecentres in the age of mobile technologies? Answers from Malawi” aims at answering these questions to understand the reasons why people use telecentres in the age of mobile technologies.

Four Reasons Telecentres Are Still Relevant

The study reveals four main reasons why people still patronize telecentres: (i) to socialize with fellow users; and (ii) that it is cheaper to access services in the telecentre as compared to using smartphones for the same services; (iii) telecentres provide services compatible with users’ needs such as library services and computers; (iv) and to attain ICT skills some of which are applied in using smartphones.

Because of these reasons, governments should continue investing in telecentres. For example, the government of Malawi should resist plans to shift from the community telecentre model to a school managed model that may limit the number of users and benefits of telecentres.

1. Telecentres for community socializing

When users were asked why they use telecentres they indicated that apart from accessing telecentre services, the users were using the telecentre as a social space. This is reflected in the fact that users were still using the telecentre because it gave them a chance to interact with fellow users.

2. Telecentres are more cost-effective

There was evidence that using telecentres was cheaper than using a mobile phone. For example, one user indicated that with as little as K100 ($0.097), she was able to pay for internet services which would allow her check social networks such as Facebook and send emails if need be. She further mentioned that this was not possible for her on the phone as that she could not buy a data bundle that would allow her to do that.

3. Telecentres have library services

Users considered telecentres to be compatible with their needs because of the library services they offer to the community. There was evidence that telecentres with library services attracted people to use the facility because it provides library services. Therefore, the establishment of the telecentre allowed people especially students to be using the books and space in the library for studies.

4. Telecentres provide ICT skills

Findings show that some people still used the centre to gain ICT skills, such as using Microsoft packages and internet searching skills. Telecentre services were also compatible with users’ needs in two ways.

Firstly, there was evidence that some users simply preferred using computers in the telecentre other than smartphones for some services. Computers allowed them to attach documents which they found difficult to do on the phone. Moreover, the computers allowed people to do other tasks such as typing as well as send which was not possible with the phones.

A lightly edited synopsis of Why do people use telecentres in the age of mobile technologies? Answers from Malawi by Sellina Khumbo Kapondera and Jim Mtambo.

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