Community Access Centres in Russian Schools

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Sergei Stafeev
Center CN & Info Policy Studies

The problem of unequal access to information (often called " Digital Divide ") becomes one of key problems of a modern society in many countries of the world. Especially it is actual for the countries of post - Soviet space, where the educational level of the population is traditionally high and where during several last years prompt "economization" of all spheres of social life have taken place. As a result, in absence of long-term state programs of support of nonprofit soci-l projects in the field of an informatization, the opportunities of modern ICTs basically serve the economic purposes, were engaged in the business-projects. It means, that significant groups of the population (low-incomes, disabled, marginal groups, seniors, children from low-income families et al) practically are deprived to participate in " information revolution ", to use benefits of world-wide information resources. The social separation in relation to the information became one of most painful in Russia, calls a social withstanding.


Russia, 2001. NGOs and other Civil Society institutions.


For the last several years in the most of developed countries there were conducted large projects aimed at the establishment of contemporary community information infrastructures based on the use of modern ICTs and, in the first place, of the Internet. These projects are based on the established relationship between the government and local communities and reflect the interests of political and economic stakeholders on the given territory.
Communities (local community is a group of people who lives in one region and has common values) plays a vital role in a public life of the most developed countries and it is a base structure unifying socially active citizens who are aimed at the development of their territory. As for local levels the role of community is very significant. It integrates the most active members of society, whose aim is the development of region. It can be community-based-organization as well as informal organization. In contrast to this, in Russia the traditional forms of local self-organization were destroyed.
One of the main mechanisms for the development of civil society in post-communist states is the transformation of the neighboring citizens into a neighborhood community formed by people of various social groups, who are nevertheless ready to take decisions together and to solve important for them local problems.
Contemporary schools can become centers of neighborhood renewal in Russian megapolices. According to most expert analyses, schools in Russia should become a "nutshell structure" for sustainable development of the local communities and the successful development of Russian schools is dependant on their close link to the life of local communities. The school is a number of rooms where people can meet each other and discuss local problems, ways and approaches to solve them; arrange appointments and organize themselves for joint work.
Usially, students parents already -; this experience can become the basis for the formation of local neighborhood communities.So that, the school can also be viewed as a unique resource center for the development of local "neighborhood" community.
The studies we have conducted so far have indicated that in case information networks are seen only as the installation of computers and telecommunication facilities without any analysis of the meaning of these, these information networks quickly die out or commercialize. In regard to a given research problem we face the necessity to point out the structures of interaction, stakeholders and regional agents of development, on the one hand, and the structures of communication and the infrastructures on the basis of which we can send and acquire reliable and objective information.


Since February 2001 CCNS cooperate (leading the Research program) with The Democracy Works, a joint Russian-American R&D Program ( aimed at the creation of a network of community telecentres in Saint PetersburgÂ’s secondary schools. The main idea of the Program is to transform social active schools in St. Petersburg into a center of civil initiatives of the local community. In modern world, schools are a place where future citizens learn their roles so making schools function more democratically is essential to democracy as an idea and an ideal. We believe that schools can be the nutshell structures for the formation and development of communities in large cities in Russia.
According to our vision, we should provide equitable access to ICTs outside a formal educational framework, to the wider local community with a proposal for the establishment of multipurpose community centres for universal access to a range of services meeting community needs, with information technology as the backbone.
In this work we are trying to incorporate community networking (CNs) principles for the development of the project, which are based on several principles and goals, including:

(1) content provided by the members;
(2) bi-directional communication;
(3) focus on the local matter.

School-based Centre should be open after-school hours for community access. This is an important source of sustainability to underwrite recurrent costs associated with the technology and imp-ove community-school relations. Equally important, this model extends the benefits of technology, the Internet and life-long learning to the entire community for a wide range of development applications.
A sustainable prototype of the Centre are developing through the collaborative work of a partnership including the education community (schools and further education), local government, other private and public sector organizations. Schools and community organizations in the area have been already audited and their needs and interests noted for the development of pilot projects and provision of services.

Our aim is to give local people and organizations in local communities the opportunity to produce and shape information that reflects their needs, thus creating a model of community development, taking both educational and economic advantage of the potential of the very latest multimedia interactive information technology.

Training is a vital aspect of this work. At the first stage of the project we need to form a permanent group from the school teachers and student leaders and provide for them a special training program in order to:

- explore the concept of school-based Community Access Centres in relation to their schools and communities;
- connect the operation of a school-based Community Access Centres with the financial sustainability of their school;
- begin the concrete steps necessary to plan, initiate, and operate a school-based Community Access Centre successfully.

Although the technology component is an important part of our project, we believe that the effective use of the Internet has less to do with technology, and more to do with people. Individuals make the difference. We should transform the computer from an arcane and mysterious piece of technology into a tool that opens a world of communication, understanding, collaboration and learning.

We are sure that at present times it is very important to strengthen efforts aimed at integration of Russian society (including low-income citizens who do not have a possibility to use Internet on commercial basis) into the world information -nformational openness of the society, practical realization of citizens' rights to have a free access to information, citizens' participation in information exchange through up-to-date ICTs we consider to be the most important prerequisite of deep democratic changes in post-communist countries, of fast development of all spheres of life of the society, including economics.

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