Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Macedonia strives to boost IT literacy

Macedonians interested in upgrading their computer skills can get free training under a new government programme, called "Macedonia -- Country of Computer Experts". So far, the first phase of the programme has drawn 22,534 people from different age groups and professional backgrounds. The training is held twice a week for one month. Attendees are offered lessons in Windows, Word, Excel and the internet.

"The goal of the IT course is to equip the citizens with IT basics, operational systems, office applications and the internet," Information Minister Igor Ivanovski explains.

"I am unemployed and have basic computer literacy, but it is mostly theoretical because I can access a computer only in an internet café," says Goran, a trainee from Skopje. About 10,000 of the programme participants are from the capital; the rest come from different locations around Macedonia.

Six companies are providing instructors, including Algoritam Centar. The training is being held at Algoritam Centar facilities and at state-run schools in the countryside. In conjunction with the course, the government is also providing a week of free internet access.

The government has not revealed how much it will spend on the project. Some companies that bid for contracts under the initiative are complaining about a lack of transparency. In addition, the government has come under fire for using its IT initiatives for political purposes -- for example, the password for free internet access is the VMRO-DPMNE motto "Ostvaruvame" [We are accomplishing].

A recent survey, commissioned by USAID and carried out by Strategic Marketing, showed internet use in Macedonia is on the rise. Compared to last year, the number of users has increased by 5%.

However, the high cost of dial-up access and a low number of internet providers remain major obstacles, with some 20% of those surveyed citing high prices as a factor keeping them off the web.

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