TELECENTERS IN BRAZIL: THE NEED FOR SURVIVAL DESPITE OF THE EVOLUTION OF CELL PHONES
Instituto Universitário de Lisboa- ISCTE-IUL (PORTUGAL)
About this paper:
Conference name: 13th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 11-13 March, 2019
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:In today's information society, more than half of the world's population still does not have access to the internet. The scarce access to Information and Communication Technologies-ICTs limits citizenship improvement and generates social exclusion. Brazil is a deeply unequal country with regards to several aspects and poverty is the most urgent issue to be solved. Its population is 207,660,929 inhabitants (2017) and 25.4% live under the poverty line. The main objective of Brazilian digital inclusion public policy is to provide incentives to the beneficiaries of its programs, in order to change their life trajectories by improving professional qualifications, merging strategies of immediate combat to poverty to mid-term ways to break off the generational exclusion and poverty cycle of they are in. The TELECENTROS program is part of this public policy that promotes the exercise of digital citizenship in community spaces equipped with computers with access to the internet and provision of free education, professional training and other community activities. The increasing speed of technological evolution at the global level, especially the use of cell phones and free wi-fi networks combined with the advance of the neoliberal agenda that reaches worldwide economies and governments with decreasing state support in social policy financing, has seriously menaced the continuity of this Program in Brazil. Besides, data from the National ICT Agency (2018) indicate that the country has 234.7 million cell phones, which represent 1,12 cell phone per inhabitant. The increase of this kind of access and use of ITCs has brought up the issue on the usefulness and survival perspectives of Telecenters in the country. Despite the demobilization of the digital inclusion policy, which is currently underway in Brazil, the municipality of Belo Horizonte has kept its TELECENTER program alive with 302 active Telecentres in the city. This policy has been, however, questioned by public representatives and other civil society sectors. Can Telecenters be replaced by the use of mobile phones and Wi-Fi networks? Can cell phone devices carry out all the activities, which are currently developed in Telecentres? What are the possible improvements suggested by Telecenters users that indicate they must survive and continue to exercise their social function, despite the evolution of other technological devices? In order to contribute to this debate and help answer these questions, this article presents the results of two studies: a qualitative and a quantitative one, carried out in Belo’s Telecentres, as part of a PhD research Project. The results suggest that they still provide a number of services that cell phones can not replace, such as training courses, supervised school work development, technical support on ICT skills by digital inclusion agents and government and private online services, among others. They also point out the need for improvement in 3 main aspects: diversification of courses offered, ICT infrastructure improvement and local Telecentres management. The article concludes for the importance of digital inclusion public policies as well as for the need for improving Telecentres’ services, so that they continue to fulfill an important role in promoting citizenship exercise and practice among low-income social classes in developing countries.
Keywords: Digital inclusion, Telecenters, public policy, citizenship, cell phone.