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  1. A look at India’s deep digital literacy divide and why it needs to be bridged

A look at India’s deep digital literacy divide and why it needs to be bridged

We need to start by understanding digital literacy rates for the public and private sector, and also education sector. We need data for the status, the progress and the proliferation of digitisation across regions, gender and social strata.

By: | New Delhi | Published: September 24, 2018 1:22 AM
Bridging the great Indian digital literacy divide

Always on, always available, always enabled—this is the world of Generation C (“connected”) who will have grown up in a primarily digital world by 2020, according to a recent report by PwC. Computers, internet, mobile phones, texting, social networking are an integral part of their world. Their familiarity with technology and reliance on mobile communications will transform the way this generation works, entertains, collaborates, consumes and creates. Experts predict that 26 billion or more sensors and devices will be connected to the internet by 2020, bringing in an era of machine intelligence that is already re-framing the world of humans. While technologists and researchers prepare for the future of digitisation, it is imperative to develop a framework that will build a solid foundation for countries, governments, organisations and individuals to navigate this change.

To prepare for the wave of digital transformation, building digital skills is as essential as creating digital infrastructure, starting with a progressive focus on digital literacy and general literacy. Those who lack either will find themselves sidelined. This has been recognised as UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), where one of the monitoring indicators calls on countries to track digital literacy skills. But we have to ask ourselves: What exactly does it mean to achieve a minimum level of digital skills? A good starting point would be to understand digital literacy, India’s position on digital literacy rates, the importance of digital literacy and, indeed, of the digital Indian.

India’s digital literacy ladder

While India asserts itself as one of the world’s largest growing economies, a recent report by the Digital Empowerment Foundation indicates that 30% of our population lags on basic literacy and thrice that for digital literacy. The government launched Digital India in 2015 to digitally empower every citizen. While its potential benefits are unquestionable, challenges remain, including delayed infrastructure development, bandwidth availability, personal computer penetration and the capacity to scale.

If India were to optimise the opportunities emerging out of the modern digital economy, we would need to leverage the full potential of our digital investments, through a standardised set of programmes implemented at various levels via the machinery of governments, corporates and education institutions.

Here are five early approaches for the near and long term:

Definition: A consistent definition of ‘digital literacy’ is required for the purposes of data collection, analyses and measurements by the government and its administrators. The American Library Association says: “Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” Hiller Spires of North Carolina State University views digital literacy in three buckets: (1) Finding and consuming digital content; (2) creating digital content; (3) communicating or sharing. India’s National Digital Literacy Mission trains people to operate digital devices, and to access the government’s e-governance services at its basic levels. Each of these renders a different operational plan, and clarity is required for progress.

Direction: A national digital literacy policy to monitor the digital divide across states and cities recognising the multidimensional nature of digital literacy. There are three challenges here: First, prioritising based on a grass-roots approach; second, aligning with sectoral and national growth targets; and third, remaining internationally relevant both in the near and long term. The policy also needs to answer questions on whether the role of digitising a country is only the job of the government or whether public-private partnerships (PPP) can help move the needle. The questions of digital equity are key: Can digitisation reach the haves and have-nots? Which generation will benefit the most from a digital India? We need a roadmap bridging the digital divide. The first question to answer, of course, has to be: What comes first, digital India or digital Indian?

Design: A framework to establish an ideal categorisation of creation and consumption of content. From an architect to a blogger, there is a tremendous volume of work happening in India that contributes to the digital output of the country. The potential impact of all the digital creation in India is underestimated. While consumption of content is evident across demographics, the need for increased creation is of significant importance to an emerging digital economy.

Data: If any transformational change needs to begin from the grass-roots level, we need to start by understanding digital literacy rates for the government, the public and private sector, and surely the education sector. We need data for the status, the progress and the proliferation of digitisation across regions, gender and social strata. We also need stronger studies to identify the opportunity for every citizen to experience the value technology can bring to the way they live, work and exist.

Drive: The inevitable and rapidly evolving human-machine relationship will mean that either we are driven by technology, or that we drive the change. In fact, early technology touchpoints with children will mean that parents, teachers and educational institutions will need to adopt a set of methodologies to achieve an appropriate balance of creation and consumption of technology in the formative years of children. Yes, these future digital Indians will be the flag-bearers of the prospects of our country and investing in them now will help reap the full benefits of India’s digital dividend.

By- Meeta Sengupta & P Krishnakumar. Meeta Sengupta is a writer, speaker and education advisor. P Krishnakumar is senior vice-president & general manager, Consumer & Small Business, Dell India

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