MY country, Zambia, has more than 18 million people. Our new Internet Society chapter wants all of them to be online.
Why? Because we need the Internet now more than ever.
Globally, UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimate that 1.3 billion children between the ages of 3 and 17 – or two-thirds of this age group – still need access to the Internet.
For children in Zambia, the situation is even worse.
In September 2020, Save the Children Zambia reported that just 0.8 percent of children from poor households had internet access for distance learning. Less than one percent of the country’s students were able to attend classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Information and communications technology (ICT) classes were introduced in schools in 2012-2013. This wasn’t that long ago and even then it lacked the necessary infrastructure. We still don’t have it today. It’s time to build it! Imagine the difference we could have made with access.
The Internet can give more Zambians access to affordable education, and it provides new opportunities for residents to start new businesses and grow. It is critical during this time of COVID and it will be critical after.
Current statistics from the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority show that only about 56 percent of Zambians have Internet service, with less than 1 percent connecting through PCs. Most people access the Internet using smartphones, with the majority using feature phones.
Launching the first Internet Society chapter will mean members pushing for more Internet access across the country.
Several issues contribute to the relatively low number of Internet users, however.
Many Zambians in rural areas have poor access, or no access, to Internet service, and schools in rural and peri-urban areas often lack Internet access and ICT hubs.
Part of the reason for the low Internet penetration numbers in the country is the cost of Internet service. Data costs are high, especially for rural residents. The chapter will focus on increasing awareness about the many benefits of the Internet.
Zambia also faces a handful of other challenges related to the Internet. There are major misconceptions. For instance, many people consider social media to be the Internet. With law enforcement agencies in Zambia criticizing social media and threatening crackdowns, many people avoid using the Internet.
In addition, the government of Zambia’s Vision 2030 plan has the country becoming a “prosperous middle-income” nation by then, but the lack of Internet creates a disconnect between that goal and the reality. More Internet access is required for the vision to become reality and for Zambia to prosper.
More Internet users and better Internet services in Zambia will bring affordable education, easy access to health and shopping services, increased productivity, and technological development. The future is bright if Zambia embraces the Internet.
The writer is Levy Syanseke, a Guest Author at internetsociety.org