A few months ago, information technology expert Irving Wladawsky-Berger wrote a policy brief for the Brookings Institution titled “Will the Digital Revolution Deliver for the World’s Poor?” We’ve briefly returned to that topic several times in the past few weeks, as part of our effort to emphasize the ways in which online information technology training and certification can make the world a better place and provide IT professionals with rewards to their conscience as well as their bank accounts.
This month, though, Wladawsky-Berger published an article in the Wall Street Journal calling attention to a different policy brief that had been prepared for the Brookings Institution around the same time as his. That one, by Deepak Mishra, asked whether the global growth of information and communications technology would “spell the end of the knowledge divide.”
The brief was optimistic, finding that people in a wide range of geographic areas, including the economically disadvantaged, are experiencing greater and greater access to knowledge through computers, smartphones, and the internet. But the optimism was tempered by the recognition that conditions and policies in each of those areas are not necessarily leading people to make full use of their new access to online information, technology training, and more.
The Wall Street Journal article makes the same point, adopting Mishra’s references to the “democratization of knowledge.” Both researchers urge governments, NGOs and others to enhance the “analog foundations of the digital revolution,” like regulations, education programs, and institutions related to digital technology.
This is all well-advised, but we can’t help but come away from the article with the sense that our perspective on globally available, online information technology training makes us more optimistic about the prospects for continuing improvement both in knowledge acquisition and in the improvement of “analog foundations.”
The way we see it, Wladawsky-Berger and Mishra fail to give sufficient attention to how casual users of information and communications technology in underprivileged areas can actually become the shapers of that industry and its applications. Of course, the transition requires some level of infrastructural support, but it also opens up the possibility for them to use advanced ITIL training and other IT skills to enhance that support for IT professionals who come after them.
A middle class person seeking information technology training and certification in California may face fewer challenges and be more capable of receiving that training on a face-to-face basis; but a dweller of the third world who has access to computers or smartphones can receive comparable information technology training and certification online, provided that he is reasonably autodidactic and has some inborn talent for the field.
There’s no doubt that improving upon analogy foundations will provide better outcomes. But even if there seems to be insufficient investment in these foundations, there is tremendous value in providing online information technology training on its own. Such a one-sided strategy may give way to a slow process, but it will nevertheless contribute to a positive feedback loop, whereby local talent and training makes the acquisition of knowledge easier for a new generation, while also improving upon the mechanisms for spreading knowledge to those who need more help within the local area.
We hope that our perspective will resonate both with foreign investors in third-world information technology and with people who live in underprivileged regions but think they might have a talent for information technology training and certification. Don’t let the lack of local support discourage you from following that course. In the near future, you could become the local support in someone else’s life, which was missing in yours.