As part of its digital inclusion strategy, the nation’s telecommunications ministry (ictQatar) has been testing a project to bring computer literacy and internet access into labor camps.
So far, two pilot projects have been rolled out at workers’ accommodations in Al Khor and Al Sahiliya, in the form of computer rooms and training from mentors.
The programs, which have reached some 370 workers, are being operated in partnership with the Qatar Scientific Club, the RAF Foundation and Microsoft, as well as the workers’ employers.
The ministry has said it hopes the project inspires employers to follow suit and install similar facilities in camps around the country.
A 2013 UN study found that residents of Qatar are more connected to the internet than almost any other country in the world.
But ictQatar’s Digital Inclusion Strategy found that low paid, low-skilled workers – who account for a significant chunk of Qatar’s population – faced a “high risk of digital exclusion.”
Speaking to Doha News, Slawomir Klos, the ministry’s ICT Adoption Section Manager, explained how this finding spurred the program’s inception in 2012:
“Qatar’s economic growth and social development rely heavily on transient workers, many of whom reside in labor camps across Qatar.
However, this sector of society has little or no access to ICT tools within their labor accommodation. So we developed a holistic program to support low skilled workers in access to technology, tackling barriers such as infrastructure and access, as well as refining our training proposition for them.”
To help establish the computer rooms, program partners contributed the following:
- The RAF foundation and the Qatar Scientific Club donated refurbished computers;
- Microsoft granted free access to their online digital literacy curriculum and trained 25 workers to be “ICT Champions” and serve as mentors; and
- Camp owners covered the cost of the furniture, electrical work and decoration work needed in the training rooms.
Klos said the response to the project has been “very positive.”
“Staff feel less isolated, and the Digital Champions feel empowered in their new roles to help their peers. Transient workers are using the rooms on a regular basis, going there to stay in touch with family and friends and undertake training, which will help them at work and in their daily lives.”
In response to the new computer room in his accommodations, one Indian expat, Muhammad Zafar Eqbal, told ictQatar:
“I’m very happy that I am able to use a computer. I can speak to my family. I can read the newspaper. It makes a big difference to hear all the news from back home.”
News of the project has been cautiously welcomed by human rights groups. Amnesty International spokesman James Lynch told Doha News that some workers with internet access have reached out to the group seeking help.
“Any genuine initiatives to improve conditions for Qatar’s migrant workers are to be welcomed, and better access to information technology is something that many workers may value, both to make communication easier with their families at home but also to seek information about their rights and how to claim them,” he told us.
He added, however, that it was important to recognize projects such as this only go a small way in solving the problems faced by Qatar’s migrant workers – a point echoed by Nicholas McGeehan of Human Rights Watch. Speaking to Doha News, the researcher said:
“In over ten years of covering this subject, I never once heard of a migrant worker complain about a lack of computer or internet access. This is not to say this is a worthless exercise, but there are far more pressing issues the Qataris need to attend to. “
Rather than working alone to expand its internet access project, ictQatar now hopes to use it as a blueprint to inspire employers across the country to install similar facilities in their own camps.
To this end, it will soon publish a handbook for employers and labor camp administrators, advising them how to set up these rooms.
In May, they will also release a “Digital Inclusion Toolkit” for laborers – a selection of online content in English, Arabic and Hindi focused on basic ICT skills, health and safety and financial literacy.