May 17, 2002 - Digital Opporunity Channel: The Digital Divide in Morocco: Reflections of a Peace Corps volunteer

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Morocco: Peace Corps Morocco : The Peace Corps in Morocco: May 17, 2002 - Digital Opporunity Channel: The Digital Divide in Morocco: Reflections of a Peace Corps volunteer

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, July 13, 2003 - 11:29 am: Edit Post

The Digital Divide in Morocco: Reflections of a Peace Corps volunteer

The Digital Divide in Morocco: Reflections of a Peace Corps volunteer

The Digital Divide in Morocco: Reflections of a Peace Corps volunteer
by Sam Werberg

Between 1997 and 2000, I served as a volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps in Morocco. My assignment was in a university library, but I was able to visit with the staff of libraries and information centers throughout the country. The manifestation of the digital divide in Morocco was apparent in both formal and informal circumstances, rural and urban. While North African and Middle Eastern countries are each at a different stage in their development and use of technology, the situation in Morocco is in many ways representative of what is happening throughout the region.

The level of computer and Internet literacy in Morocco had been quite low throughout the early 1990's, but when the Internet came to Morocco in the form of the neighborhood cybercafe, the younger generation embraced the new technology. With cybercafes located in all of the major cities -- and even smaller towns and villages -- the general knowledge and recognition of the Internet has drastically increased. Among the older generations, along with the working poor, the Internet is something that is vaguely familiar but rarely seen or experienced. The most recent published estimates of Internet users in Morocco range from 40,000 to 80,000 users out of a population of 30.6 million. This is undoubtedly a low estimate because it does not always include cybercafe patrons.

The digital divide can occur at many levels, but in Morocco I experienced the divide from several perspectives, including the lack of availability of ICT materials and the the level and depth of training.

The Materials Divide

The basic challenge of accessing IT materials varies from community to community. The wealthy in Morocco have access to the latest computer hardware and Internet connectivity. Internet access costs are similar to what we pay in the U.S -- dialup access starting at around USD $15 per month. The growing Moroccan middle class, in the major cities at least, has access to the Internet at cybercafes for about one U.S. dollar an hour. The available machines come equipped with the latest hardware and software technologies. Yet while these materials are available for purchase, acquiring them is still limited to those who can afford them. The availability of computers in schools and public libraries is not yet widespread in Morocco.

Even though dial-up Internet access is available at rates comparable to U.S. prices, they require a greater portion of the average Moroccan's wages. Local dial-up Internet service providers are available in most cities and larger towns, but users must also pay for each minute on a local call, which can raise the overall cost of access significantly. Recently, some of the major Internet providers have begun offering special rates that will hopefully bring these costs down.

Even with ICT materials largely available, maintaining them is an entirely other dilemma. Cables, ribbons, cartridges, keyboard, mice -- all of these things commonly break or need replacement throughout the life of one computer system. Having a ready supply, or a nearby store, is not always possible, especially in rural Moroccan communities. It is not uncommon for the budgets of public institutions to make money available for an inititial computer purchase, but not supply funds for upgrades and maintenance.

In additional to hardware, software obviously needs to be purchased, updated and licensed; because of this, it's no more surprising to find cases of software piracy in Morocco as you would anywhere else. Perhaps a more serious issue is the availability of the right software in the right language. Many Moroccans are bilingual, even multilingual, especially among the well educated. Many computers are equipped to toggle between the Arabic and the Roman alphabets. Some computers have an English operating system installed, with English-language software, but the physical keyboards are still in the French layout. But the majority of Moroccans prefer to converse in Moroccan Arabic or one of several Amazigh (indigenous, pre-Arabic) dialects that are spoken by over half of the country. And in the far north, Spanish is often more common than French. This diversity of languages and languages skills adds and extra layer of complexity when it comes to providing appropriate software -- as well as the training to go with it.

Equitable Training and Education

ICT training is the driver of sustainable ICT access, requiring a combination of finding the right people, the right locations, the right times, and the right methodology. Without a structure in place to ensure that the new knowledge is dispersed equitably throughout society, any amount of physical material would be useless. This is why access to training resources in the languages of each community is crucial. The plethora of languages in Morocco poses a particular challenge when acquiring or creating training resources.

There are some very good schools and private courses throughout Morocco that turn out skilled computer programming graduates, as well as a variety of beginner courses at cybercafes. The dilemma is new graduates of the professional programs are often so attracted to entering the private sector directly that there is limited skilled personnel left for training the public at large. And despite the recent surge in cybercafes, their staff often lack the training or the patience to teach others.


While an answer to material needs is for increased capital in the hands of everyday citizens, the Moroccan government and private entities can and should provide a foundation on which communities can build. To date, government support has come in the form of grants, direct investment in the educational infrastructure and state funding of a better Internet backbone. Additionally, the Moroccan Ministry of Culture has taken an active lead in promoting and supporting a public library system throughout the country, which hopefully can lead to broader access to computers for training.

Donations from business and foreign organizations are always welcome, but this material can sometimes pose a problem. It's hard when you've been brought up to "never look a gift horse in the mouth", but sometimes you just have to say no to that circa 1989 machine than can run Windows 3.1 and little more.

By setting up institutions such as public libraries and cooperative academic networks, a necessity for training is built into the system. At the same time, in the private sector, Internet use in offices and the widespread availability of cybercafes has created an upswell of eager learners, from novice to expert level. The ministries are beginning to strongly encourage the training of staff and parents are eager to have their children take what opportunities exist to learn the new technologies.

I found that Moroccan society was generally very accepting of the Internet and those who had access to the resources embraced the new technologies with ease. This is only a small portion of the population though and those who did not have ready access to the necessary resources were, and still are, left out.

Moroccan society is much more group and family oriented than life in the US or other Western societies, and it would seem the individualistic nature of using the Internet would not be encouraged. While this was certainly true in family situations at home, most Moroccans I met had an innate desire to learn and a strong desire to interact with others. Communicative technologies such as email and chat rooms allow the younger generations of Morocco the freedom to interact with each other, and serve a similar purpose to the evening promenade, a leisurely stroll around the nieghborhood to catch up on friends and relatives. This incorporation of new technology into an old culture's daily activities remains one of the leading drivers of Internet use in Morocco.

In summary, while technology, training materials and skilled trainers are available, the digital divide in Morocco is real and remains a drag on a society that is very much a regional leader in many other areas. The projects listed in the footnotes are just a few examples of how the Kingdom of Morocco continues to push the envelope and move forward with technology. A combination of community-based initiatives, funding, and curiousity will sustain these efforts and further serve to bridge this gap.

Sam Werberg is a consultant in the Technology, Information and Communications Group of the global business advisory firm FIND/SVP. Sam also volunteers as an Internet tutor in the Adult Learner Program of the Queens Borough Public Library in New York City.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Digital Opporunity Channel

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Morocco; Information Technology; Internet



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.