BISHKEK, 21 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - A US-supported training programme on computer skills and literacy in Kyrgyzstan is helping young people boost their information technology (IT) knowledge while providing free access to information.
"In our school we have very old computers and we do not have an information technology (IT) teacher. I came here to learn how to work with computers and the Internet. Moreover, it is completely free of charge," Shirin Osmonalieva, a 15-year-old schoolgirl excitedly trying to find some information on the web, told IRIN in the capital, Bishkek.
"Internet access is free here, while at Internet cafes one hour costs up to US $1. I am a student and access to information is important for me," Elvira, a student of the Kyrgyz National University, told IRIN. The minimum monthly wage in the former Soviet republic is barely $4, while an average monthly salary is less than $50. State scholarship students receive a monthly stipend of some $3.
Such stories are not uncommon in various parts of Kyrgyzstan, where many people of different age groups and professions come to the Internet Access and Training Programme (IATP) centres to improve their computer literacy or enhance their IT knowledge along with getting free web access.
The IATP, a programme run by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the US State Department, has been providing free Internet access and training in 11 countries throughout Central Asia, the Caucasus and Western Eurasia since 1995. From major cities to small communities, IATP encourages information sharing, network building, and collaboration among ECA programme alumni and other professionals and local organisations.
"Today IT is an integral part of our life and we try and help people get free information. It is important because in such places as Isfana [a remote southern city close to the Tajik border] people wait for news for a long time. They do not know what is happening in the country. Through our centres, people can follow the news and then share it with others," Dmitry Oleynikov, an IATP country coordinator, told IRIN.
The programme now has 17 centres in all provinces of the former Soviet republic. In addition to providing free access to information, the local centres run educational courses and the programme's server in Bishkek hosts more than 2,200 non-commercial web sites for free.
Each month the average number of people trained is about 600 and more then 5,000 people get free Internet access. More than 15,000 people were trained at the centres between July 2002 and December 2004 alone.
The courses, designed in a simple way to teach people how to use the Internet and some programmes, vary from basic skills in computer literacy to more specific higher-end training such as web-programming or network administration.
The design of the training courses changes due to the needs of participants - from school students to government employees. "In the majority of schools there is a big gap in teaching IT and there are problems with equipment. In some of our groups we had students who operated a computer for the first time in their lives. We help schools tackle this educational gap. Also, we try to explain to children that learning how to work on computers is much more useful than playing games at Internet cafes," Nurlan Jumaliev, an IATP programme associate, explained.
"I have studied two courses. Now I am learning how to develop web pages. I want to be a businessman and computer literacy will be very important for me," Arzymat, a 15-year-old schoolboy, told IRIN at a centre in Bishkek.
Meanwhile, many organisations, including government institutions and universities, ask IATP to train their employees. "Three years ago, I needed to learn how to use computers. At the educational centres I had to pay a hefty sum for such training, but I have found that the IATP has such courses for free and I went there. It was a big help in my work," Gulnara, a journalist from the Kyrgyz Television and Radio Corporation, told IRIN.
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