Nepali Times
Here And There
Knowing how to do IT


Back when internet and IT hysteria was at its height in India, a newspaper-I forget which one-revealed a startling fact. Many leading members of the political elite in Delhi didn't know how to use computers. They had cottoned on to the need to exploit the IT sector, and take credit for its roaring successes, but they couldn't type, or access the web, or even switch on a PC.

At the time it occurred to me that this would be a good way to test our politicians. Can they type a simple document? Find things on Google? Do a complicated series of tasks on a computer and put together a presentation? Or are they the type who snap their fingers and get an underling, a cyber-peon, to do it? If the former is true, they're qualified for public office. But if all they can do is issue orders and take credit for the result, then they should be \'outed\' and given a choice: learn how to use a computer or get a new job.

Of course, that might not be fair to the pre-IT generation. In days of yore, gentlemen didn't type. They got a woman to do it. This is no longer acceptable. Now, people of all ages are immersing themselves in skills they never dreamed they'd seek-including the use of keyboards and software. You have to be hands on. You have to know how to do it yourself.

In Nepal I wonder who amongst the current crop of leaders and hopefuls is computer-friendly. For make no mistake, information technology is the way ahead for Nepal. Not that we need to build Bangalores everywhere; those will spring up if the local conditions warrant. But the use of IT and the global communications tools that come from the internet and web-driven media will bestow countless benefits upon the people of this country. It's far too important to leave to the private sector alone.

Whatever form of government this country eventually comes up with must prioritise communications and computers, along with general literacy. That means those cheap laptops NGOs are pushing in villages, PCs in schools, and large-scale use of Nepali and other vernacular language computer programs. Government departments-especially land registries and the finance ministry-need to gather all their information into data banks and put it online. There should be websites in all areas of government with information and helplines for citizens. Video conferencing and email must be used to make up for distance and rough terrain.

Cell phone coverage has to be universal, with government subsidising towers and service in remote areas.

Eventually, broadband internet access needs to be extended to everyone, perhaps through that cellular network. These days, you can go anywhere in North America, plug a small card into a computer and surf the net. Why not
in Nepal?

But back to the original point. Who in the eight-party alliance can type and who gets others to do it for them? I propose a national test to be put together by young people, business types, and smart Nepalis from other sectors-NGOs, activists, thinkers. Sit leaders and other politicians down at keyboards and make them show their stuff. Tell them to find something on Youtube or United We Blog.

Make them download the latest BBC report from Kathmandu and find the UN website, then insist they prepare a simple Powerpoint presentation.

Those that can't should be instantly enrolled in night school or sent to the retirement home. Life's too short to have low standards in high places.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)