It seems that the Industry Forum on Rural ICT [Information and Communications Technology] Development feels that the real help to China’s farmers and other rural areas is - Internet access. Yep you heard it - they feel the way to get things going is to offer connectivity, but the Internet.
Calling this initiative “Wired to Prosperity”, the forum is looking to put an advanced infrastructure in place in rural China to facilitate economic growth. They say that farmers and rural citizens can now afford computers because they have dropped in price so much. Bear in mind that in the past 15 years, Chinese built 50,000 km of new highways [20% of total highway length of the continental USA], and planning to build 30,000 km more in the next 10 years.
The Forum members tout the computer and connectivity as a potential tool in improving not only rural education but also healthcare. Xu Xianglin, professor from the China Communist Party Central School said "With the fast increase of income, many rural families can afford a PC now," said professor Xu. "However, the ‘digital gap' still exists. There is a huge gap in the ability to get information between urban and rural residents. The ‘PC Going to Villages' campaign is a great opportunity to narrow the gap."
"Health care can be a breakthrough application for ICT in rural areas," said Liu Ning, president of Shanghai Kingstar Winning Software. "Medical services lag far behind in rural areas. ICT is the best way to narrow the gap. For example, we can develop applications that standardize medical treatment to help medical staff in rural areas."
We find this sort of an absurd thing to say, as many farmers in rural china do not even have electricity and are increasingly elderly as their younger children head off to more urban areas in search of better paying work, while education is often beyond the means of rural families due to the low income of many farmers. While it is true that in September of 2008 China announced that all rural and urban children would recieve nine-years of primary education many families still cannot affrord the uniforms and books that are needed and as of April 2nd 27 counties in China are having difficulties in providing this education to rural areas due to a lack of funds.
There is a great deal that technology can do, unfortunately putting the Internet into areas with little or no education [most rural families cannot afford school tuitions] and often no basic infrastructure such as power, water, sewage is not something that will help the average rural Chinese citizen.
We are not saying this is not a good move, but it is one that feels out of sync with the actual issues most rural families are facing in China today. If this project can go hand in hand with other economic and social reforms and progress then we may actually see something extraordinary happen to rural China.