Q.) “Education is just one area that has highlighted the digital divide between India’s rural and urban areas during the Covid-19 pandemic. The trend is evident everywhere.” Comment. Also, examine the various reasons behind this wide digital divide. (10mark) (150 words)

The digital divide between India’s rural and urban areas is evident everywhere — telemedicine, banking, e-commerce, e-governance, all of which became accessible only via the internet. Services such as online classrooms, financial transactions and e-governance require access to the internet as well as the ability to operate internet-enabled devices like phones, tablets and computers. However, the urban-rural distinction is quite stark. 

  • According to the 75th round of National Sample Survey conducted between July 2017 and June 2018, just 4.4 rural households have a computer, against 14.4 per cent in urban areas, with just 14.9 percent rural households having access to the internet against 42 per cent households in urban areas. 
  • Similarly, only 13 percent of people over five years of age in rural areas have the ability to use the internet against 37 per cent in urban areas.

Various reasons behind digital divide

  • Being a densely populated country, India needs well established infrastructure to deliver e-services. But still there are some rural disconnected regions which are not connected to the Internet.
  • Population is a challenge for a developing country to serve a population of 1.30 billion uniformly. Every policy and project that is initiated should be implemented at a large scale keeping the future perspectives in mind.
  • Rural India is still deprived of the facilities of urban India because of its geographical location. It is poorly connected in terms of roads and infrastructural facilities.
  • A large part of the population is fighting for its daily basic needs. They do not bother about high speed devices and digitization. They are more worried about food and shelter.
  • A large portion is illiterate and cannot operate digital devices. According to census 2011, literacy rate in India is 74.04%.
  • In India, there is huge discrimination among male and female. Only 65.46% of Indian women are literate and it is shocking that only 29 percent of Indian internet users are female. This creates a huge gender divide.
  • Corruption is a termite for government. At each tier of government structure, politicians and stakeholders try to draw illegal benefits for themselves. Most of the budget that is decided at a higher level cannot reach the general public and a large part of it is lost due to mediators.
  • It is observed that often the rural people are not very much attracted towards the web-based E-Governance services for various reasons.
  • Many-a-times they are afraid of the technologies and at times they are even ignorant about the availability of technologies which can help in dealing with their problems.

Way forward

  • The government must employ strong measures to arrange for free and affordable internet to maximise participation in digital India.
  • What India needs is a contextually relevant digital education system that integrates the knowledge of digital into all aspects of life.
  • For education, last-mile connectivity is the need of the hour in rural India.
  • India needs a public institution system that leverages the opportunities provided by digital technology.
  • There is an urgent need to formulate a digital crisis response plan under the Digital India scheme to focus on unintended exclusions of the unconnected by providing free bandwidth to the vulnerable.
  • Internet Service Providers should provide cheaper data plans or bundle a data plan along with the device.

A variety of projects and programmes for rural and distant areas have been launched in India. To cross the digital divide, citizens, policymakers, and politicians must be determined. The country must upgrade infrastructure and link it to community information centres.

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