As the United States develops its broadband policies, we can look abroad for examples of digital expansion efforts that have had a positive impact on community health and wellbeing. One such example is Taiwan’s Digital Opportunity Centers (DOC), which are equivalent to public computer centers in the U.S. DOCs mitigate the digital divide, help in post-disaster reconstruction efforts, and enhance community development. In 2005, the Ministry of Education in Taiwan granted NT$6.8 billion (US$212 million) for a four-year plan aimed at increasing computer skills, community bonding, and promoting local business through information and communication technology, particularly in remote rural areas. Through this initiative, local communities in 168 remote villages across Taiwan built 300 DOCs.
The first phase of the project started with eight pilot sites in the remote, mountainous villages of central Taiwan. The central government granted funding to local community organizations, schools and governments to establish DOCs. Organizers received assistance from the Chaoyang University of Technology to develop various computer curricula including basic computer classes, Microsoft Office training, website creation, business online marketing, video and audio production, as well as resume and proposal writing. DOC staff and volunteers assisted participants with writing emails, using the Office Suite, and communication tools, like Skype. To address a lack of educational resources, Chung-Liao DOC cooperated with college students to provide daily online tutoring for pupils’ homework assignments. As young people tend to leave the villages to work in cities, it is common to see pupils and grandparents use computers together, or for kids to teach grandparents how to use computers in the centers.
DOCs also serve as a key resource for village reconstruction and economic development. A 7.6-magnitude earthquake in 1999 seriously damaged several villages. The villages applied for government grants to establish DOCs for their survival and community building. Many local farmers consulted with Chaoyang University for e-commerce and participated in online marketing classes. Despite the difficulty of reconstructing the villages, local organizers, local government and residents maintain their hope. The DOCs have helped these villages in their national and global efforts to promote tourism and sell agricultural products, like handmade crafts and dyed clothes.
Apart from economic development, DOCs play a critical role in binding together communities. In addition to providing computer classes, DOCs also serve as community centers. They host events and provide online advertisement on DOC websites, blogs and Facebook pages to promote the villages. DOCs also hosted video production contests, where community members got to use their skills to rediscover their respective villages, preserve and value local, as well as aboriginal culture through digital archiving. Through these events, Taiwan’s DOCs offer more than just technology and computer skills to the communities of central Taiwan: they bring opportunities and hope to remote communities and their residents.
“We thank all staff, teachers and consultants from the government and the University for providing so many resources for establishing the DOC,” said Ms. Jone-Mei Hong, the principal of Fu-Ming Elementary School and one of the DOC organizers. “We also appreciate local residents’ participation and help in every event. The DOC would not succeed without local organizations and community involvement.”
To learn more about the eight DOC sites in central Taiwan, please visit the DOC website or watch this video on Digital Opportunity Centers. (Both resources are in Chinese).