In today’s world, technology occupies center stage in national as well as international aspect. New technologies are employed for improvement in knowledge generation as well as sharing nowadays. Information and communication technology (ICT) is one of the technologies which is contributing and enhancing nation’s growth. The rapid adoption of information and communication technology (ICT) has enabled people to access information across the globe. But there is a widening gap between those with access to these tools and those without the ability or means to access them. In a digitally unequal world, we need to focus on bridging the gap between the digitally privileged and underprivileged community of rural India.
ICT plays a vital role in almost all aspects of government, business, and the lives of individuals. Networked computers, for example, are widely adopted as an e-governance medium to improve communication with the public and improve delivery of services. ICT-skilled people are able to serve as empowered citizens in their communities and understand how society operates. ICTs provide a great platform and tools with the potential to deal with challenges and barriers. Application of ICT is a paradigm shift in comparison to the long-held traditional government approaches.
Of the 1.2 billion people in India, about 69 percent live in rural India in about 650,000 villages, and approximately 72 percent of the rural workforce is engaged in agriculture (Census, 2011). As per the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC, 2011), a staggering three-fourths of rural households earn less than Rs. 5,000 per month, while more than half are landless and only 10 percent have salaried jobs. Rural India lags behind urban areas in the development process. With a substantial majority of the population in rural areas, it is imperative to engage them in the development process. One way to do this is to provide them with access to information.
ICTs can play an instrumental role in bridging the information gap in rural India. Integration of ICT in rural development interventions will speed up the development process and fill the gaps between the educationally and technologically deprived and the prosperous in society. As most of the population in villages are engaged in agriculture, ICT is a helpful tool for them to get information about their village, blocks and districts, natural resources around them, agricultural practices to be employed, seasons and monsoons, market rates of different commodities, and about government schemes.
ICT can inform them about money allocated for rural development in their area and track the expenditures. All this information impacts their lives and livelihoods. Computers are an effective tool to do all this and much more. ICT plays a major role in rural education, health, hygiene, agriculture, and social awareness. Simple training and implementation of ICT programs in easy-to-understand language has the potential to bring about a revolution in rural development.
Despite the huge potential of ICT, the picture in rural areas is quite challenging. Only 5.2 percent of rural households possess a computer at home vs. 18.7 percent in urban areas. Urban Internet penetration stands at 8.3 percent, as compared to 0.7 percent in rural areas. Similar findings have been reported by the 66th NSSO.
Per the report, only 3.5 of 1,000 households had Internet connectivity at home in rural areas, while 59.5 urban households had Internet connectivity in 2010. Eighty-two percent of urban households have a telephone/mobile facility, while the percentage stands at 54 in rural areas. The penetration of mobile phones amounts to 48 percent in rural vs. 64 percent in urban areas (Census 2011).
Further, as of the 71st NSSO, 8.8 percent of the rural population possess computing ability vs. 30.2 percent in urban areas. Only 7.8 percent of the total rural populace, ages fourteen and above, are digitally literate. Rural areas would be revolutionized if the penetration of computers and Internet usage could be increased and subsequently achieved. The situation is disadvantageous for the lesser privileged in rural areas, especially since more and more services are computer-based.
Government initiatives for digital literacy
The Government of India realizes the importance of ICT for the development of the country and has taken steps to elevate digital literacy. Government and nongovernment organizations have committed to work toward National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM). NDLM and Universal Services Obligation Fund established the Bharat Broadband Network Ltd. to roll out the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) plan in 2011 with the objective of amplifying Internet connectivity.
BBNL identified three pilot blocks—Arain (Rajasthan), Naogang (North Tripura) and Pravada (Visakhapatnam)—with the aim of providing fiber connectivity available for free for a month and later on at nominal charges. The government initiated the NDLM in 2012 for digital literacy awareness, education, and capacity building such that rural and underserved communities can fully participate in the global digital economy.
In keeping with the Skill India initiative, soft-skill courses pertaining to computer literacy, functioning, and hardware and software solutions were planned at rural centres. To transform the entire ecosystem of public services through the use of information technology in 2015, the Central Government launched the Digital India program with the vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyaan (Prime minister’s rural digital literacy campaign) is an integral component of "Digital India" that focuses on making at least one person in every family digitally literate by March 2019.
Although the government is working toward improving digital literacy, more efforts are required to make the Digital India scheme popular and create awareness among the masses about its benefits. One challenge faced by the program is the slow and delayed infrastructure development in rural and remote areas. To be successful, a massive awareness program is required.
Digital literacy empowers adolescents
S M Sehgal Foundation’s (Sehgal Foundation) digital literary initiative to train adolescents in backward districts of Haryana and Rajasthan, India, outlines the emerging need to supplement digital education with life skills education to ensure that children and youth acquire, retain, and transfer the benefits of digital education to a larger populace and positively transform their own lives. Intervention regions include the Nuh district of Haryana and Alwar district of Rajasthan, where poverty is widespread and communities are lagging behind in development.
In general, very few individuals are takers of these technologies. One of the suggested approaches to bridge the digital divide in rural areas is to provide increased computer education and activities in villages. In the villages of Alwar and Nuh, children are enthusiastic about learning computers and are aware of the benefits of digital literacy. For students to adopt computer technologies, they must have an enthusiastic attitude toward computer use.
Students of rural Nuh and Alwar districts lose out on the benefits of computer education, a vital skill required to shape their future, due to a lack of resources. Schools where computers are present lack trained teachers. Without this important resource, enhancing computer literacy may see defeat. By setting up a computer center in these deprived areas and focusing on skill development and inclusive growth, young people have the opportunity to learn and the program has a better chance of success.
To empower rural India using ICT is a daunting task. Sehgal Foundation, with the support of donor funders, is helping in filling the digital gap and empower rural communities by imparting digital literacy and life skills education in rural schools and to “dropout” children in Nuh and Alwar districts. A major objective is to build confidence and enable access to information available on the Internet, which promotes overall well-being and competence in young people as they face the realities of life. Students are made aware of their role as responsible citizens and see how they can contribute to the development of their village.
The digital literacy sessions expose children to digital devices and their functions, fundamentals of MS office, Internet browsing, emails, social media, online banking, and ticketing. The aim is to gradually develop these students into future instructors to enrich rural digital education through their own human resources. The motive of life skills intervention is to help rural adolescents be better able to achieve in all walks of life by acquiring psychological competence, better day-to-day problem-solving skills, more positive attitudes, and the ability to cope with different situations in life.
The course has brought widespread digital literacy to its participants. A pre and post assessment of the intervention in Nuh revealed that more than 90 percent of course participants are now aware of the Internet and its associated aspects such as e-commerce and social media, in stark contrast to only 20 percent being aware of these aspects before the training.
All participants in the course are well versed in the basic usage of computers and utilize their knowledge of the Internet to perform basic functions. The program bridges the knowledge gap between urban and rural youth and empowers participants with new skills that help them in applying for a job and carrying out everyday activities such as browsing, banking, and so on with ease. Digital education appears to have opened a world of opportunities for them.
Integrated life skills education and Internet literacy critically help young people from rural environments, mostly first-generation learners, to constructively use the Internet in their daily lives and analyse local conditions and solve the issues of their village.
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- See http://defindia.org/national-digital-literacy-mission/.
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