ndia’s digital divide continues to be embarrassingly wide. While the overall Internet penetration in the country is 33%, it is only 16% in the rural areas, a report released at the ‘India Mobile Congress 2017’ said last week. According to the Cellular Operators’ Association of India IMC-Deloitte report, India ranks 36th globally in Internet inclusion based on availability, affordability, relevance and readiness. India lags behind many countries in broadband penetration with only 23%, which comes to around 310 million subscribers as of August, 2017.
To overcome the digital divide, the NDA launched the Digital India programme, which targets to train 60 million people in rural areas, or 40% of the population. The government has approved two schemes to promote digital literacy — national digital literacy mission and digital saksharta abhiyan. The private sector is also pitching in: Technology companies with interest in user data have been trying to teach rural Indians, especially women and the unlettered, the basics of Internet. Digital literacy is the knowledge to handle digital devices like computers, tablet PCs and smartphones, and Internet usage.
The rise in broadband penetration, which is considered a key element in achieving a country’s socio-economic objectives, to 60% could translate into a 5-6% increase in the GDP.
The push for digital literacy can work far better if there is an equal or much more stress on literacy as a whole. This is because literate people will seamlessly move to cyber world for the vast resources it provides at a user’s disposal.
The challenge for the government, however, is not just expanding the base of digital literate people; it’s also about how to teaching them the basics of safe internet use. For example, in Britain a committee has clearly said that digital literacy minus training in safety issues is unacceptable. They recommended that digital literacy must “sit alongside reading, writing and mathematics as the fourth pillar of education; and that no child should leave school without a well-rounded understanding of the digital world.” India must follow this not just in schools but also for adult/late entrants into the digital highway.