The digital divide alludes to the gaps in access, understanding, and effective use of the Internet and Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
The digital divide perils the opportunities of the underprivileged who do not have or have limited access to technology.
As of 2020, about 4.57 billion people are active internet users which makes up 59% of the global population. In Asia alone, 2.4 billion people are active internet users with a 54.9% penetration rate – this proclaimed the Asia Pacific region as the location with the largest number of internet users globally. However, 3.7 billion remain unable to access to the internet worldwide. Moreover, 52% of Asians are offline and denied such technologies.
Causes of Digital Divide
There are numerous factors that cause the digital divide:
a) Contrast in Earning Levels
The income gap is a major contributor to the digital divide. The income gap is the difference in earnings between two groups. Relatively wealthy families are 10X more likely to own gadgets and internet connection at home than relatively low-income families. Low-income earners spend great amounts of money purchasing basic needs – ICT and internet connection is seen as a luxury.
b) Lack of Education on Digital Literacy
First world countries have greater access to technology than developing nations. Therefore, individuals, specifically students who are in developed countries, are at a greater advantage in utilizing technological devices than children in underdeveloped nations. The digital divide is widened when digital skills are not taught at an early age through exposure.
The availability of Internet access relies heavily on location. Urban regions have more means for 4G or fiber optics than rural regions such as up mountains or isolated locations. Moreover, certain countries have better and faster services than other nations.
d) Incentive to Learn
The lack of motivation to expose oneself to technology widens the digital divide. Numerous people don’t see digital literacy and digital skills necessary. This is due to the excuse that the human species has survived long before the Internet.
Types of Digital Divide
a) Access divide
An access divide occurs due to the differences in socio-economic levels. Countries and individuals who are able to conduct digitization are in a better situation to access technology than developing nations.
b) Use divide
The lack of digital literacy and digital skills affect the handling of technology.
c) Quality divide
Despite knowledge of digital skills, some people find it challenging to make good use of the Internet. This forms a gap between information have and information have-nots.
d) Social Divide
The Internet formulates groups and social circles among users with similar interests. The social divide centers on the utilization and access to social media platforms (i.e Twitter, Facebook and etch.) Communities who have no access to the internet are isolated and ostracized from those who have. This stems from their unawareness of the latest trends or lack of similar interests when relating to social media.
Asia’s Apparent Digital Divide
The year 2020 has brazenly exposed Asia’s digital divide and put a spotlight on its impacts on Asian communities. As students remain at home because of school closure amid the coronavirus outbreak, the unequal access to the Internet and ICT technology disable the less privileged as e-learning is imposed. Millions of students in Asia are at risk of falling behind at school.
According to UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay, “The global scale and speed of the current educational disruption is unparalleled and, if prolonged, could threaten the right to education.”
Government schools in Delhi are challenged due to the students’ lack of access to electronic devices –more so, the majority of the children are first-generation learners, meaning their parents may not help much in the adjustment to e-learning. This causes education charities are anxious about girls leaving school. About ¼ of the country’s girls drop out of school before reaching puberty. The female literacy rate (66%) is 14% lower than the male literacy rate (80%).
Indonesia is the most populated country in Southeast Asia. 150 million of its 268 million population have access to the Internet – making 56% of them digitally able.
According to a survey by SMERU Research Institute, teachers in villages had to visit students’ homes to hand and gather homework because of a lack of access to the internet and electronic devices.
Another survey identified that about 97.6% of schools transferred to online learning. However, the survey also discovered that teacher-student interaction decreased due to distance education.
Iwan Syahri, the ministry’s director-general for teachers and educational staff said, “During the pandemic, the interaction between teachers and students has decreased. Students are only engaged in learning activities around two to four days a week and for less than two hours a day.”
According to Malaysia’s Ministry of Education’s nationwide survey found that only 6% own computers, 9% own tablets, and 46% own smartphones out of about 900 000 students. Most of these gadgets are shared between family members – placing students under strain to locate an electronic device of their for distance learning.
Parents in the Klang Valley revealed that teachers accommodate students that are relatively socio-economically strained by sending them audio messages of class lessons in five-minute intervals for children to listen to.
Out of 108.3 million Filipinos, 70.7% of them were online as of 2019. 13 million Filipino households do not have electricity at home. Moreover, the Philippines’ internet connection is one of the slowest in the world – with 19.51Mbps which is slower than the global average 57.91Mbps.
There has been a movement trending online under #AcademicFreeze after an online petition through Change.org was created. The petition demands the Philippines’ Department of Education (DepEd) to cancel school. The academic freeze targets the suspension of the academic year asserting that “academic freeze is vital in this time wherein there is a pandemic.”
Close the Gap
Close the Gap is in international social enterprise that aims to bridge the digital divide by providing high-quality, refurbished IT equipment donated by European companies for social and educational projects in developing countries.
Since 2004, the enterprise has supported more than 6, 000 projects in over 50 countries globally. In total, the company has donated 1, 007, 000 computers to 3, 220, 000 beneficiaries.
Close the Gap has multiple Asian countries. In Lebanon, Close the Gap has offered 100 computers to Thaki, a social impact association that empowers refugee and vulnerable children through self-paced, motivational electronic educational tools. In Afghanistan, Close the Gap contributed 178 computers to The Womanity Foundation which aims to accelerate gender equality through innovative investments.
The ST Foundation intends to coordinate and sponsor projects that engage the use of modern sciences and technology to encourage human progress and sustainable development of less privileged communities around the world.
The ST Foundation works with organizations around the world to fight against the digital divide.
Digital Unify is the key program of the ST Foundation. It aims to widen the reach of digital technology through the provision of free IT technology and training courses to disadvantaged people.
The program sets up computer training centers or DU Labs by cooperating with secondary schools, NGOs, and local administrations.
a) ICB Course
Since 2003, the Informatics and Computer Basics (ICB) course presents computer skills to groups of 20 students of 14 years old and above. The course is available in 7 languages to help beneficiaries learn basic digital skills.
b) Tablets for Kids
Tablet for Kids (T4K) was fabricated in 2015 to tackle the digital divide in younger generations (children of ages 9 to 13). The course enables children to develop ICT skills.
c) Advanced Courses
This is the natural course to take after completing the ICB course. They are 60hr courses that include an in-depth presentation about Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook.
ST Foundation has programs in India, Malaysia, Morocco, Philippines, Thailand, and many more countries.
The modern society revolves around the latest technologies. Today we rely on gadgets and the internet for entertainment, education, and work. Despite labeling electronic devices and the internet as necessities, not every person has access to such commodities.
Asia’s digital divide has existed long before the pandemic. However, current situations have exposed the severity of the issue. Today, Asian countries suffer their consequences and risk falling behind as the digital divide sustains.
It is long overdue that we learn more about the problem and alleviate the circumstances of the disadvantaged.