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Public Debate Report: Effective communication for ICT Practitioners PDF Print E-mail


Reported by: Wairagala Wakabi

On May 19 2006, I-Network held a public debate on the topic “Effective Communication for ICT Practitioners? at the Grand Imperial Hotel. The event was the first in a series of public debates which I-Network has scheduled for this year as part of its broader plan to engage various stakeholders in the ICT community to share ideas on pertinent issues. The issues for discussion at the public debates are topical issues of the day, as well as those in which members have a keen interest. Accordingly, the topic for the May public debate was chosen following the interest members of the I-Network discussion group expressed in the issue of effective communication and language skills for ICT practitioners.

Key Speaker and their submissions
The key speakers at the public event chaired by I-N Coordinator Eng. Elisha Wasukira were:
i) Mr. John Musajjakawa, Senior Investment Officer, Uganda Investment Authority;
ii) Mr. Joshua Mandre, Traffic Controller, KFM Radio Station
iii) Mr. Chris Kasangaki, Finance and Admin Officer, East African Centre for Open Source Software; and
iv) Mr. Luke Kateregga, MIS Assistant, Family Planning Association of Uganda.

Musajjakawa, who made a strong case for ICT practitioners to have thorough communication skills, said since ICT practitioners worked in a technical area, they especially needed good communication skills in order to communicate with the rest of the world. "If you do not understand what you are talking about in ICTs, and if people do not understand what you are talking about, then you become a non-performer"? he said. He pointed out that the poor education system and inappropriate curriculum in Uganda today are leading causes of the poor communication and language skills among young Ugandans.

Musajjakawa also said since ICT knowledge, packages and language change very frequently, it is important for ICT practitioners to be dedicated readers so that they do not get left behind. He regretted that the reading culture in Uganda is almost zero? which was also contributing to poor communication and language skills. He warned ICT practitioners to avoid using jargon and slang in formal communication.

Kasangaki reinforced Musajjakawa's position, and said it was not proper to use language that will not be understood by one's audience. This was why it was very important to use proper language in official communication. "You cannot take rapper's English or Owino English to official communication" Kasangaki said. Owino is a market in downtown Kampala. He added: "Communication is an important tool in human relations so it must be intelligible and there has to be a standard." He regretted that there was no regulatory mechanism for ICT professionals in Uganda and this could enable anyone to lay claim to being an ICT practitioner.

Kasangaki said that regardless of the language one is using, they must properly express themselves. He said in a globalising world it was important for Ugandans to have a good grasp of the English language and not only seek to uphold their Ugandan values and forget that they belong to the bigger world. He said Ugandans should have zero tolerance for mediocrity in whatever they do, noting that at the moment many Ugandans were happy to be second best.

Mandre differed from the first two presenters. He said effective communication was about being understood, and therefore as long as one managed to put across their message, it mattered less what language and communication skills they had. While noting that English is a foreign language to Ugandans, Mandre said informal dialects that were modeled around slang were getting into the mainstream, which underlined the fact that language was dynamic. He gave the examples of "Sheng" in Kenya and Ebonic in parts of the United States of America. Mandre said, however, that ICT practitioners - like all other human beings - needed to be able to communicate effectively.

In his submissions, Kateregga said communication should be a course unit in ICT training programmes offered at institutions of higher learning, and that masterly of the English language should be a prerequisite for students joining tertiary institutions. He added that for ICT practitioners to communicate effectively, they need to use a single, simple and contextual language, and also put into consideration the needs, experience and levels of understanding of their audiences.

Issues raised during the discussion
● Sections of the media are misleading the public by popularising slang and jargon.

● Messages need to be understood by the sender and the receiver, otherwise there will not be effective communication. It is also important also to understand the standard set worldwide for communicating on different mediums. There is need for instance for people communicating online to adhere to Netiquette.

● There are many Ugandans that do not understand the English language but it is still controversial even in countries like India whether local languages should be used to train people in ICTs. How, for instance, will a mouse be called in local languages?

● ICT practitioners have to simplify things for their publics so they need to be able to communicate effectively.

● Since many Ugandans do not understand the English language there is need to embrace and encourage initiatives like those of Microsoft to localise some of their programmes. That would enable more Ugandans to use ICTs.

● In the past there were several Ugandans who were literate but could not write/read English. Currently, virtually every Ugandans who can read can understand the English language. Do we then need local language online content?

ANNEX 1: Summary of the I-Network online discussion The I-Network discussion group was in the weeks leading up to May 19 2006 dominated by debate over whether ICT practitioners need to be masters of language as well. A posting by a student at an ICT training institution who sought internship opportunities from d-group members sparked off the debate. One member of the d-group took issue with her command of the English language and her communication skills, and went ahead to advice that ICT persons also need to have neat language and communication skills.

The debate evolved, and drew animated contributions from members of the group. Some members of the group submitted that one cannot get a second opportunity to impress, and like other professionals, IT workers must communicate well, especially if it is formal communication. In line with this thinking, there were a number of submissions that questioned the educations system in Uganda where several students get out of school when they can hardly practice what they studied, or express themselves in proper English. Some discussants questioned why many Ugandans are content with mediocrity. As one member put it, Personally I believe that we teachers, students and leaders should build an impression of no tolerance for mediocrity so that all strive to achieve that 100 percent. But if we start by discounting and protecting mistakes then we may not even get close to that expected level of excellence.

Another submitted that knowing English gives Ugandans many opportunities compared to neighboring countries - whether the possibilities for international jobs, studying abroad, access to the vast English literature (which could be on ICT), or inflow of students from non-English speaking countries.

But then, there was considerable opinion on the discussion forum that one does not need to be an expert at the English language (or even at communicating) if they have requisite skills for the [IT] job they are doing. English is a foreign language after all, some said. Others said the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and many other people were successful in growing their economies, and doing their jobs (including IT ones) even if they did not speak English.

The debate then delved into some really pertinent issues for the Information Society. A case was made for getting local languages into cyberspace, but with Uganda boasting of more than 50 languages, there is a serious challenge in this regard. Uganda does not have a national language, and attempts to get one of the indigenous languages to occupy that position is dogged by several considerations. This in effect means the effort to get Ugandan languages in cyberspace is a tougher one. The online discussions around the issue of the need for effective communication and language skills, in turn led to the I-Network pubic debate on May 19 2006 at the Grand Imperial Hotel.

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