As part of its digital inclusion strategy, the country’s Ministry of Information and Technology (ictQatar) is working to ensure construction workers and other blue-collar expats here have access to computers and multi-lingual ICT training.
To do this, the ministry said it’s planning to make installing broadband internet in workers’ accommodation a new priority. The announcement came earlier this week as ictQatar its Better Connections Program at technology expo QITCOM 2014.
Earlier this year, the ministry was testing a pilot project to bring workers under the digital fold because they are a high risk of “exclusion.”
Qatar is home to more than half a million low-income workers, the majority of whom live in communal residential accommodation outside Doha.
One goal of the digital inclusion strategy is to ensure workers’ accommodations include a room or designated space for computer access and training offered in Arabic, English, Hindi, Nepali and Bengali.
These rooms will have low-cost computers sourced through a recycling scheme, internet connection and access to information on workers’ rights, financial literacy and health and safety, as well as training on basic ICT skills.
The Gulf Times quotes Reem Al-Mansoori, executive director of the ministry’s ICT and Society as saying:
“The lack of facilities and unfamiliarity with the Internet are some of the barriers for Qatar’s migrant workers. The Better Connections Program has been established to create a framework towards realization of digital inclusion across our transient labor force.”
As part of the scheme, the National Human Rights Committee will provide current information on workers’ rights and the labor law.
The program was launched following the publication of a new ictQATAR report in which Minister of Information and Communications Technology Dr Hessa Al-Jaber committed to providing better online access for workers.
In her foreword to the Qatar’s ICT Landscape 2014: Households and Individuals report, Al-Jaber said:
“We will address digital literacy, affordability, quality of service, awareness, and safety barriers, explicitly targeting 100 percent coverage with speeds of at least 8 mbps in areas where transient workers live, reflecting Qatar’s ongoing commitment to diversity and workers’ rights.”
The report features the findings of a survey of 2,207 people across the demographic spectrum in Qatar examining issues relating to ICT access and the usage behaviors and patterns of residents in Qatar.
Its detailed findings reveal a number of key themes which will shape the ministry’s strategy for the coming years.
The report found that nearly 100 percent of the population now use a mobile phone, and basic use of basic online services such as email, Internet browsing, social networking, and peer-to-peer file sharing is prevalent across all segments of society.
Some 93 percent of respondents who are active online said they used the internet for social networking, while VoIP calls like Skype and other basic online activities were also popular.
However, Qatar lags behind when it comes to advanced online access such as online shopping, internet banking and the use of e-government services.
Only 18 percent of the overall sample surveyed said they had used internet banking and 15 percent had used the internet for online shopping.
And the research found that those who use the net for these services generally have a higher level of education and are more likely to be Qataris and Western expats.
Of those who had used the internet for these more advanced services, 22 percent were educated above secondary school level, while just 6.2 percent had a secondary education or less.
Respondents who hadn’t used e-banking or online shopping in the last year cited the reasons as a fear over lack of security (44 percent), concern of lack of control (26 percent) and that they felt the process was too technical (31 percent).
IctQatar said the findings showed that improvement in education level corresponds to a reduction in concerns about online security and threats.
Al Jaber said: “This new research not only shows that our current programs and policies have been working, it also offers a roadmap for where we need to go to address the lagging indicators—as well as insight into what we must do to get there.”
The report added that the households and individuals study identified lack of advanced ICT skills and knowledge among the population, and that it is developing digital literacy and IT skills programs to address the issue.
Qatar residents now have more mobile devices than ever before – 92 percent of all mainstream households have a smartphone and 96 percent have a laptop. This puts Qatar significantly ahead of other technologically advanced countries such as Singapore (85 percent) and the UAE (74 percent).
However, when the figures are broken down into individual use, only 23.6 percent of transient laborers said they had a smartphone, compared to 100 percent of Westerners, 99 percent of older Qataris and 97.7 percent of technologically-interested white-collar Arabs.
Similarly, less than one third (30.4 percent) of transient workers had a computer.
The use of tablet computers has grown markedly in the last few years, with 69 percent of households in Qatar now in possession of one in 2013, compared to just 25 percent the previous year.
Again, Qatar is well ahead of other countries in this regard, with Singapore recording 42 percent of households with a tablet in 2013, Korea 24 percent, the UAE at 19 percent and KSA trailing at 16 percent.
The report said it was not surprising Qatar was leading the field internationally in the adoption of mobile technology “given the high growth in the Qatar economy and the speed of development of Qatar’s ICT sector.”
Meanwhile, researchers found that there is a lack of awareness and uptake for online government services in Qatar.
Some 45 percent of those surveyed said they were not aware of the various government services currently being offered online, and only 16 percent of the overall population has used any online government services in the past year.
Online security remains a key concern of internet users in Qatar, with 42 percent of internet users voicing a concern about viruses and malware, 38 percent concerned about the lack of privacy and 36 percent admitting to be concerned about accessing inappropriate material online.
The report found that in some sectors would prefer more government censorship of some sites: “older respondents also feel that the government should monitor social media sites to remove any explicit or unwanted content.”
These findings correlate with another recent study commissioned by ictQATAR -Attitudes of internet users in the MENA region to cybersafety – which found that 41 per ent of those polled said they “totally agreed” that government authorities should censor content that is ‘discriminatory’ or ‘racist.’
Online social platforms are one of the favored ways of staying in touch in Qatar, particularly through mobile phones, which is done by 73 percent of the nation’s online population. This compares to 56 percent in the UK and 59 percent in Sweden.
While Facebook continues to dominate the social networking scene, researchers found that younger people perceived it as “old” and voiced concerns about privacy, instead preferring to share information on Twitter.
Business networking sites such as LinkedIn generally are not favored in Qatar, except for Westerners and white-collar Asians interested in technology. Researchers attributed this to cultural differences, which put more value on personal relationships and face-t0-face engagement.