The Botswana government through the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to transform the country's public libraries in line with the new information age.
The two partners are implementing a project now known as Sesigo that is aimed at enabling free computer and Internet access to all citizens even those in the rural areas.
Project director, Sebusang Sebusang, said their intention is to ensure that they reach all the corners of the country. "We want Batswana across the country to have access to the Internet. Every place where there is a library, people should be able to access the Internet. We are also trying our best to ensure that people get an understanding of how the project works," he said.
Sesigo project compliments government efforts to ensure access to essential Internet Communication Technology (ICT) services such as e-government portal, that provides online government services. It also narrows the digital divide by ensuring that all acquire the necessary skills to use ICT as well as avail a platform for all to access ICTs.
Advocacy and outreach specialist for the project, Tshepo Maswabi revealed that in this partnership, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged a US $4.75 million (33.25 m) grant towards computer and Internet infrastructure as well as training on the use of computers and Internet for library staff and monitoring and evaluation.
The Botswana government on the other hand, Maswabi stated, has committed US$6.5 million (P45.5 m).
This is inclusive of library building maintenance and upgrades, recurrent Internet charges as well as in-kind contribution. Microsoft Corporation also donated software valued at US 1.5 million (P10.37 million) to the project to be installed in all personal computers and
She said in addition to the financial support by the key stakeholders the project has formed partnerships with other government ministries and departments to co-share services and facilities, for instance the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and department of out of school education and training.
"The project has been integrated into the global e-government process through the Ministry of Communications Science and Technology. The association has been brought in to help improve the profession. The project has international library associations such as International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) that will help strengthen them," she said.
Maswabi said the Sesigo project conducted the first annual impact study after a year of implementation. The main finding was that access to computers is still limited in the country and Sesigo is largely unknown because of limited marketing.
As a result, officials recently embarked on an education campaign to inform the public about the project and calling them to action. Significant progress has been made so far regarding the four-year project targets. Of the 78 public libraries targeted, 23 have computers with 19 offering public access to Internet. Computer deployment is targeted at 412 and so far 193 computers have been deployed in the 23 libraries.
Of the 435 library officers to be trained, 343 have received basic ICT training. As the strategy is to empower as many people as possible, a total 2, 998 members of the public have been trained in basic ICT skills by the National Library staff.
(Sila Press Agency)