Public Service Minister Sonia Parag, who oversees the government’s ambitious agenda to provide 20,000 scholarships for citizens across the country, says the government is working to erase the disadvantages indigenous and rural communities face in taking advantage of the programme online.
In Bali, Indonesia for the 144th meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Minister Parag addressed the issue during a presentation on how countries are leveraging information and communications technologies (ICTs) as an enabler for the education sector, including in times of pandemic.
She said it was unfortunate that the indigenous people are most affected by ICT inequalities, and as the government makes efforts to provide education, it is those in the hinterland and rural communities that would be most disenfranchised.
But she told the News Room that the government is working to aggressively solve the problem of both access and connectivity.
For those who don’t have access to the internet, she said a stipend is provided so they can travel to the nearest ICT hub so they can access the internet. Once they have access to the internet, they can download the materials and study at their own pace at their home.
Minister Parag acknowledged that some of the ICT hubs are not well-equipped but she said following an assessment last year, there are budgetary provisions under the Office of the Prime Minister this year to equip those hubs. Further, she said there are budgetary provisions to increase the number of ICT hubs in the country.
She said the lack of access to ICTs for rural and indigenous people have to do with the geographic layout of the country where most people live on the coastland, while most of the indigenous peoples are thinly dispersed across rural and forested areas.
This means that the cost to provide them with the requisite infrastructure for adequate connectivity is quite exorbitant, and hence the government is looking at what measures work best to address the inequalities.
She said it was because the PPP, while in opposition, was acutely aware of difficulties like these that Dr Irfaan Ali set out in the elections manifesto a “cure” to the problem.
Now as President, she said Dr Ali is serious about ensuring the government delivers in ensuring that disadvantaged citizens have access to a good education, whether it is to gain a skill or to pursue tertiary education.
The gains are easy to see, Minister Parag noted, pointing to a teacher in Region One who has been able to move from just hemming skirts and dresses to now being able to cut and sew a suit.
Last year, the government handed out 6,000 scholarships. This was more than 1, 500 more than originally intended for that year.
For this year, applications are currently being examined to determine eligibility and then awards will be made.