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Bridging the Digital Divide: Empowering Youth

  • 16 Aug 2023

In an era of increasing digital dependence, our reliance on digital technologies grows with each passing day, fuelled by the vast opportunities the virtual world presents. While we celebrate the boundless potential of the digital age, we must also recognize its shadows – a division known as the "digital divide", separating those with unrestricted access to the digital realm from those at its periphery.

As we observe International Youth Day, dedicated to honouring the aspirations of young individuals, let us delve into comprehending the impact of the digital divide on the prospects of our youth and explore the measures being undertaken to bridge this gap.

What is the Digital Divide?

The digital divide, as defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), pertains to the disparity among individuals, households, businesses, and geographic regions of varying socio-economic standings affecting their access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their utilization of the Internet for a diverse range of activities.

Impact of the Digital Divide on Youth:

The digital divide has a deep effect on young individuals, who are the future of the nation. Lack of access to digital resources or inability to use them hinders their educational opportunities and limits their potential for career growth.

As education increasingly relies on online platforms and digital tools, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, digitally disadvantaged youth face challenges in keeping up with their peers with better access to these resources. This can lead to a vicious cycle of reduced academic performance and limited job prospects, perpetuating social and economic exclusion.

Role of Education:

Education stands as a pivotal force in empowering youth and closing the digital gap. In today's digital landscape, digital literacy holds equal importance to traditional literacy. Online learning platforms, complementing conventional teaching methods, offer students engaging and interactive learning experiences. This underscores the need for government educational institutions to integrate technology into curricula, ensuring students are well-prepared for the digital age.

One significant effort in this direction is the DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) platform. Initiated by the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) under the Ministry of Education, Government of India, DIKSHA was launched in 2017. It has gained widespread adoption across States, Union Territories, and educational bodies, including CBSE.

Addressing the digital divide challenge, the National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020 places special emphasis on expanding online education to remote regions, facilitated by robust network connections. To enhance this approach, pilot studies have been conducted by organizations such as NETF, CIET, NIOS, IGNOU, IITs, and NITs. These studies evaluate the integration of online learning into education, focusing on annual assessments and improvements in E-content.

Government Initiatives and Policies:

The Digital India Mission, a flagship initiative of the Indian government, seeks to transform the nation into a digitally empowered society and knowledge-driven economy. India's dedication to bridging the digital divide and enhancing digital literacy is evident through a series of impactful endeavours.

Recognizing the vulnerability of rural communities to the digital divide, the government launched the BharatNet project, aimed at connecting 2.5 Lakh gram panchayats with optical fibre, ensuring equitable access to digital resources.

Between 2014 and 2016, the Government executed two pivotal initiatives - the "National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM)" and "Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (DISHA)" - with a collective goal of providing digital literacy to 52.5 Lakh individuals, including rural populations. The training under these initiatives positively impacted 53.67 Lakh participants, with about 42% from rural areas.

In a groundbreaking move, the government introduced the "Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA)" initiative, targeting 6 crore rural households (one person per household) for digital literacy. With a registration count of 6.63 crore candidates, 5.69 crore have successfully completed training, leading to 4.22 crore certifications.

The Kerala High Court, in Faheema Shirin v. the State of Kerala case, in 2019 declared the right to Internet access as a fundamental right forming a part of the right to privacy and the right to education under Article 21 of the Constitution.

Further bolstering digital skills, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), in partnership with tech giants such as WhatsApp and LinkedIn, initiated the "Digital Skill Champions" certification program. This collaboration underscores the commitment to equip the youth with vital digital proficiencies.

These endeavours collectively underline India's proactive strides in promoting digital inclusivity and literacy, signalling a determined journey toward a digitally inclusive future.

Private Sector and NGOs:

The role of the private sector and NGOs in narrowing the digital divide is pivotal. Many corporations have embraced their corporate social responsibility (CSR) by launching initiatives aimed at digitally empowering youth. These efforts encompass the provision of resources, training, and mentorship to underprivileged young individuals, equipping them with indispensable digital competencies vital for the evolving job landscape.

WhiteHat Jr. has initiated project "WhiteHeart" offering live learning sessions to marginalized children, collaborating with 22 NGOs and targeting over 50,000 beneficiaries by 2023.

Another exemplary endeavour, undertaken by an NGO Computer Shiksha in partnership with India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF), actively contributes to bridging the digital divide. The initiative delivers high-quality computer literacy programs to marginalized children attending government and municipality schools. Having commenced with just 15 laptops in 2013, the program has impressively expanded its reach, touching the lives of over 100,000 students across 16 states.

The potency of collaboration between the private sector, NGOs, and the government in fostering digital inclusion cannot be understated. This synergy enables a holistic and comprehensive approach, harnessing the unique strengths of each sector to achieve maximum impact.

Challenges in Bridging the Divide:

Despite the progress made in narrowing the digital divide, several challenges persist. Infrastructure limitations, especially in rural areas, can hinder access to the internet and digital devices.

The cost of digital equipment and connectivity remains a barrier for many low-income families.

A lack of awareness about the benefits of digital inclusion can deter some communities from embracing technology.

To overcome these challenges, governments and stakeholders must invest in infrastructure development, offer subsidies for digital equipment, and conduct awareness campaigns to promote the advantages of digital empowerment.

Success Story:

The ODISI-OSAAT Digital School Infrastructure initiative stands as a resounding success story in bridging the digital divide across rural India. Implemented in more than 50 rural schools across four Taluks of Karnataka, the program has had a transformative impact. With a reach spanning over 8000 students and 500 teachers, the initiative offers a comprehensive platform comprising essential hardware such as student tablets, teacher laptops, and Smart TVs for classrooms. The program also conducts teacher training workshops and refresher courses, enabling educators to effectively integrate technology into education. Continuous monitoring mechanisms are in place, ensuring ongoing support and addressing pedagogical issues. Cloud-based analytics further enhance transparency, accountability, and daily reviews of platform usage. OSAAT's strategic collaborations, including MoUs with the Government of Karnataka and the Department of Education, demonstrate a strong commitment to successful implementation, garnering serious attention from officials at various levels. This success story stands as a beacon of progress in narrowing the digital gap within rural communities.

Future Prospects and Recommendations:

The potential of youth's digital empowerment is significant in enabling the progress of a nation. Strengthening efforts to narrow the digital divide necessitates the following recommendations:

  • Sustained Investment: Governments should allocate resources to expand digital infrastructure, ensuring affordable internet and device access for all.
  • Comprehensive Digital Literacy: Integrating digital literacy into formal education and training teachers for effective tech integration is crucial.
  • Public-Private Collaborations: Encouraging partnerships among government, private sector, and NGOs aids targeted digital inclusion projects through shared resources and expertise.
  • Inclusivity: Addressing marginalized communities, girls, and people with disabilities in digital empowerment efforts fosters equitable progress.
  • Monitoring and Improvement: Regular assessment of inclusion initiatives identifies areas for enhancement and optimal resource allocation.

Empowering youth with digital skills and access bridges the divide, fostering a more inclusive future. Collective efforts of governments, institutions, and individuals can create an environment where every young person will thrive in the digital era.

Source:

  1. https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/exploring-indias-digital-divide/
  2. https://www.telegraphindia.com/edugraph/career/the-importance-of-integrating-digital-literacy-in-education-and-how-it-empowers-students-in-the-current-time/cid/1938331
  3. https://thecsrjournal.in/edtech-companies-india-csr-corporate-social-responsibility/
  4. https://www.diksha.gov.in/about/
  5. https://bharatcares.org/10_Initiatives_Taken_By_the_Government_of_India_To_Bridge_The_Digital_Divide
  6. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1885962
  7. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1885365
  8. https://www.idrf.org/ngo-computer-shiksha/
  9. https://government.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/technology/nsdc-partners-whatsapp-to-launch-digital-skill-programme-for-youth/83808659
  10. https://tech.hindustantimes.com/tech/news/nsdc-linkedin-partner-to-impart-free-digital-skills-training-71599564145717.html
  11. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/creating-a-sustainable-digital-infrastructure-platform-for-indias-rural-education/articleshow/102272161.cms?from=mdr

Priyanka Todariya

Priyanka Todariya is a Public Administration post-graduate and an experienced communications professional who has extensively worked for several government entities like Ministry of Jal Shakti, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) and state governments like Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat.

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