Digital Divide

16 Jul 2021

Curtain Hug

The COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of Indians to work from their homes. It wasn’t uncommon
to see people attending meetings on zoom, students attending online lectures, people buying stuff
online, etc. Information technology played a key role in helping to deal with the uncertainties of the
pandemic. It allowed people’s work to progress undisturbed. But, could everyone reap the benefits of
these technologies?
This is an indisputable fact that there is a visible digital divide in India. A digital divide is defined as
the unequal distribution of internet access or information technologies between various groups based
on their geographical, geopolitical, and social status. The digital divide could be seen between the
rural and urban areas. According to the NSSO which was conducted in June 2018, only 4.4% of rural
households had a computer as compared to 14.4% in the urban areas. Around 400 million Indians do
not have internet access. This divide is evident in the education, e-commerce, banking, telemedicine,
and e-governance sectors. All of these facilities were available through the internet during the
lockdown. But not everyone could use them. The utilization of these services requires internet access
and the availability of devices like phones, tablets, computers, etc. But, in India, only 25% of
households have internet facilities. India also has a low internet penetration. States like Karnataka and
Tamil Nadu have only 20% internet penetration, even though these states are major software hubs of
the country. The internet has become a popular mode of communication because of digitization. Thus,
the inability to use the internet or any such technology could prevent a person from obtaining valuable
information.
An inter-state digital divide is prevalent in the country. In general, southern states have more digital
facilities than the northern states. Uttarakhand has the most computers in cities, whereas Kerala has
the most computers in its villages. While Delhi has around 55% of its households with computers,
Odisha has only one computer per 10 households.
The most immediate effect of the disparities in digital facilities is on digital education. Many students
studying in the rural parts of the country faced troubles when the government imposed a nationwide
lockdown in 2020. Most of the classes were shifted online. But, many did not have mobiles to attend
their lectures. Sometimes, many households had a single mobile phone which was used by the
working member. In such a case, the mobiles were unavailable for use at home. Thus, students could
not study. Certain village students as those from Kota Gunjapur village in Madhya Pradesh reportedly
took loans or borrowed money to purchase mobiles as they did not have one. Many villages also have
an irregular supply of electricity which makes it difficult to charge mobiles and laptops. Students face
problems in catching up with their classes in such situations. This affects the quality of education
received by these kids. Limited internet access to students from underprivileged or backward areas
prevents them from getting knowledge that can improve their career opportunities. Also, many
institutes conduct workshops and training online. This gives an unfair competitive edge to students
who can afford the internet as compared to those who cannot access it. This also affects the
motivation of marginalized kids to study because they have to toil harder to get education than their
privileged peers who can complete studies at their own pace.
Even though the situation seems abysmal, several measures could be undertaken to bridge this digital
gap. The government of India launched the National Digital Literacy mission in 2014 to train one
million people in 18 months in some districts of the country. This was continued by the Digital
Saksharta Abhiyan in the same year which aimed to train 4.2 million people in the next four years.
Apart from government interventions, it is important to promote digital literacy in the country.
Students can be taught digital content from the primary level. This can be replaced by advanced
content in high school and colleges. This will enable students in government schools to teach about
technology to their parents. There is a need to focus on the infrastructure of technology in India.

Policymakers need to increase investments in processes that can increase the access to electricity in
remote parts of the country. The ease of sharing and transfer of information by technology should be
improved. The government could also collaborate with private companies to provide tablets or
mobiles to the students. Schools should ensure that they are able to provide internet to their students
in case if any student doesn't have internet access at home. Also, teachers should provide most of the
study material in downloadable formats such as e-books so that students can access them even if they
do not have internet. Parents must be aware of low-cost internet services being provided by
community organizations and NGOs in their areas. This will allow internet access to all. A strong
infrastructure that provides uninterrupted access to the internet along with initiatives from private
companies could help to solve the problem of the digital divide in India.