• Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

Technology Digital

I Wish I Was A Technology Digital

Advancing technologies are not giving all children a better future

The rapid advancement of digital technologies has outpaced expectations, profoundly impacting societies worldwide. Within just two decades, these technologies have reached approximately half of the population of developing nations, bringing about transformative changes. Through improved connectivity, increased financial inclusion and better access to trade and public services, technology has the potential to bridge societal gaps and promote equality. However, despite the potential benefits, there remains a significant portion of the population that is still not connected and thus excluded from capitalizing on the benefits of this digital era. Among the marginalized groups disproportionately affected by this digital divide are women, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, ethnic or linguistic minorities, indigenous communities and residents of impoverished or remote areas. These individuals and communities face barriers to accessing and utilizing digital technologies, hindering their ability to benefit from opportunities presented by the ongoing digital revolution.

Of particular concern are children from underprivileged backgrounds who lack access to the resources needed to navigate and utilize advancing technologies. This digital disadvantage worsens existing inequalities and limits these children’s educational, economic and social prospects. According to a report jointly released by Unicef and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)2, it has been found that a significant portion of the global population—specifically 2.2 billion children and young people aged 25 years or younger—lack internet connectivity in their homes. Notably, a substantial 768 million children without internet access reside in South Asia. Closer home, as per a report by the Unified District Information System for Education plus (UDISE+) 2021-23, about 66% of schools in India lack access to the internet. The report further highlights that less than 50% of the schools surveyed had functional computers.

This situation poses a significant challenge to the potential success of children and young people in various aspects of life, including their academic, professional and personal endeavours, within an increasingly digitized world.

We must acknowledge that in today’s interconnected world, access to the internet has become a fundamental necessity. It serves as a gateway to knowledge, information and opportunities, enabling individuals to participate fully in the digital age. Unfortunately, children from rural households often find themselves on the wrong side of this divide, lacking the same level of connectivity and access to online resources as their urban counterparts. Without intervention, these disparities will continue to widen, with adverse effects on the educational opportunities and overall development of marginalized students.

This disparity in internet access has far-reaching consequences. It limits educational opportunities, as it blocks the ability of children to engage in e-learning, access online educational material and participate in virtual classrooms. It also affects their social development, as they are unable to connect with peers, explore diverse perspectives, and access a wealth of online content that can broaden their horizons. Furthermore, the lack of internet access in rural areas restricts children’s exposure to digital literacy and technological skills, which are increasingly important in today’s workforce. By exacerbating existing socio-economic inequalities, the digital divide perpetuates a cycle of disadvantage for rural communities.

To bridge this divide and ensure equal opportunities for children from rural households, concerted efforts are needed. This includes expanding internet infrastructure, improving connectivity in remote areas and making internet services more affordable and accessible. Herein, it is important to highlight the underutilization of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF), which was established in 2002 to financially support the provision of telecom services in rural and remote areas where commercial viability was limited. As of 31 May 2021, 50% of the USOF money was untapped.

Public-private partnerships can play a crucial role in implementing initiatives that address these challenges, such as setting up community centres with internet access or leveraging innovative technologies like satellite-based internet connectivity. In addition, digital literacy programmes should be introduced to equip children, parents and educators with the necessary skills to navigate the online world safely and effectively. Collaborative efforts among government agencies, educational institutions, companies with CSR budgets and non-profit organizations could help develop comprehensive strategies aimed at empowering rural communities and providing them with the tools they need to succeed in the digital era.

Investing in closing the digital divide for education is essential for marginalized children in India to fully participate in the digital age. We must work to empower them with access to quality educational content, online resources and interactive learning platforms, enabling them to overcome barriers and contribute meaningfully to society. The private sector could play a crucial role by investing in infrastructure, expanding connectivity and providing affordable internet services. On their part, telecom companies can collaborate with governments to extend network coverage, while tech companies can support digital literacy and skills training. Capacity-enhancement programmes that blend digital literacy with entrepreneurship initiatives can also help empower individuals, particularly from marginalized communities, to leverage technology for personal and economic development. Prioritizing equitable and affordable access to the internet is imperative for the country to create an inclusive educational ecosystem that uplifts disadvantaged learners and fosters equal opportunities for all.

Amee Yajnik & Jameela Sahiba are, respectively, a member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, and senior program manager, The Dialogue.

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