Technology is a strange enabler for people with access. It’s a powerful tool that makes life simpler, faster and cost-efficient. It has been a prime road of change in rural or urban, agriculture or industrial sector. This disparity between societies has resulted in the uneven distribution of technology benefits for developing nations like India.
Today, we struggle to use technology to solve even basic problems such as economic prosperity, empowerment and social change, and when the population in question is 1.2 billion spread over 630,000 villages, the gap commonly known as the ‘digital divide’ looks very wide indeed.
So, where is the digital divide?
Digital divide is a phenomenon that relates to the unequal and disproportionate pace of development of digital infrastructure and services. The inconsistency in policy framework, digital infrastructure, affordability and accessibility ratio within the country has not helped much in filling the chasm of digital empowerment. The country, led by Narendra Modi, has taken initiatives such as Digital India and Make in India with a vision to digitally empower the citizens by improving infrastructure and augmenting internet connectivity. These initiatives act like oxygen infusions essential to shorten the well-defined gap between technology access and application.
Digital divide in education
Digital divide in education is an acute problem as those with awareness of and access to information and communication technology (ICT) are reaping the benefits of online education—for them it not only improves productivity but also makes information easily accessible, while the ones on the other side of the shore are bogged down with traditional methods of teaching techniques. ICT brings technology like the internet to the doorsteps of the poor in both rural and urban areas. In fact, it aims to empower every citizen, irrespective of their social background, distance or language.
Our education system needs a major revamp, and the seeds have already been sown with Digital India. This initiative needs to be pushed for improving the existent education system. Though the Digital India vision seeks to bridge the digital divide between cities and villages, the country still lags behind when it comes to providing the internet and ICT support services in schools. With proper ICT interventions, average teaching talent in remote areas can be supplemented with e-learning and connectivity. Besides technological advancements, the right combination of affordable technology with internet access at low rates is needed for a much profound and deeper change across education, empowerment, transparency, governance and economic independence.
Smart devices like mobile phones and tablets are now helping students get more out of the instructor—or even without one—in terms of their valuable guidance and an opportunity to practically put to use the acquired knowledge. India’s education system is witnessing a rapid transition towards digitisation, but the vision of a strong Digital India is impossible without empowering the people countrywide.
One such example of technological advancement in teaching is the concept of flipped classrooms, widely accepted in one of the best B-schools of India—the Indian School of Business. The executive director of the institute who used the methodology to teach a class of 70 students from the postgraduate programme batch has won the best professor award.
Digital divide in health
Healthcare opportunities in rural India are challenging as doctors are reluctant to serve there because the living conditions are bad and planning and building infrastructure is hard because of a number of steps involved. The unequal pace of development in societies in having access to digital infrastructure and services in health education is rising. People with access to ICT are getting useful health information from the internet and improving their quality of life; however, at places with lesser penetration of technology, people either travel miles to cities to get medical care or get assistance from local drug stores. The issue of health has given rise to double divide, since economic and social disparities reinforce divide on those who are either not privileged or can’t afford to have smart devices with internet access. That is when the innovative diagnostic virtual health programmes come into the picture, which provide technology services in rural areas for a small fee. Such diagnostic medical services have given a boost to the telemedicine effort connecting doctors from large cities to remote villages via video-conferencing.
In developing countries like India, mobile technologies have impacted the consumers in a big way by extending their reach to the remotest locations. Mobile penetration in rural areas is less than 10%, indicating its potential.
Healthcare services are making use of this fast growing mobile market to provide healthcare services in a newest form, termed as mHealth. Such programmes can be particularly useful during an outbreak of epidemics.
Digital divide in eHealth is not limited to resources and software. Even those with these are not convinced to use internet for health. There is a sense of insecurity that the information is coming from inexperienced personnel.
The future of education and health lies is reaping technological benefits. Digital divide in education and health is a serious issue as it impacts the quality of life one could have. A lot needs to be done in the area of overcoming it. One way is MNCs getting into alliances with government development institutions and civil society organisations in the delivery of ICT to the rural masses.
In the 21st century, we envision a society that uses technology for all those purposes that promote health and improve quality of life, a society free from digital divide.
By Suneet Singh Tuli
The author is CEO, DataWind