IT Sovereignty in India – Importance of Digital Literacy

April 2, 2014

Government officials around the world have emphasized the importance of digital literacy for their economy. According to Hot Chalk, an Online resource for educators: “Nations with centralized education systems, are leading the charge and implementing digital literacy training programs faster than anyone else. For those countries, the news is good.”

So the question is why is digital literacy important… well, a simple statistic would prove it. World Bank’s 2009 report stated that 10% increase in computer and broadband penetration increases GDP by 1.38%. Also in the last post we saw how the other BRICS countries have taken gigantic leaps in terms of ICT penetration, and have seen the resultant positive impact on their GDP.

Digital reach in India has crossed the tipping point of 100 million users in 2011. There are more than 38 million users in rural India who have accessed internet at least once in their lives, which contributes to around 4.6% of the rural population. Although this is an encouraging growth, a gap still exists in integrating and penetrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) considering the huge rural population of about 833 million. Enabling citizens with digital literacy will be one of the key development milestones in making India into a knowledge economy.

However, as on date, India is a digital contradiction or a case of complexity as far as ICT is concerned. On one hand, the country has gained significantly for its IT prowess, with IT and ITES sectors being a key contributor to India’s GPD, on the other hand back home there is a widening digital disparity, with more than 85 % of the population in digital poverty.

The current governance has not spared even this arena of its paralytic inaction; the National IT Policy spoke of connecting 2,50,000 villages (Gram Panchayats) through Fibre Optic Cable by 2015, however a dismal 3 villages have been connected till date and that too through corporate initiative.

The need of the hour is an aggressive nationwide digital literacy drive, which should focus on:

Availability

  • Addressing Connectivity – reach the last mile through innovation
  • Augmenting the right devices for the right usage – put a connected device in every household

Applicability

  • Accelerating Digital literacy – driving ICT usage awareness and capability among citizens, this will need to be done through Pulse Polio like implementation
  • Accelerate the Services which can be made available, eg IRCTC
  • Focus on building locally relevant content &services in local languages

Affordability

  • Lower cost of usage for Broadband especially in rural India – Tax benefits
  • Lower of cost of devices – lower duties &taxes on device in hinterlands
  • Encourage Usage through economic sops

A strong Public Private Partnership (PPP) model that synergistically embraces the progress of the citizenry and Industry has to be made to augment the digital literacy vision.

Digital literacy is a vision that would come by through Industry Collaboration. It will need immense stakeholder participation & excitement among citizen to be part of the Drive. The Government has to create a robust national campaign and provide ample visibility and excitement on the benefit of ICT to masses.

Driven form the PMs Office this program will have to be well popularized on various mediums like web, radio and print media.

A simple progression can be depicted as such:

Digital Access – Digital Learning – Digital Communication – Digital Commerce

Digital Literacy will have multitudes of benefits. Some noteworthy ones are :

  1. Control Corruption : this can be the single largest initiative towards cleaning up the corruption by bringing in maximum visibility – minimum intervention platforms (through e-gov) that remove manual transaction from the equation
  2. Education Dissemination & Skill Development : once significant penetration is achieved, the digital medium can be a very simple, economical and effective medium of instruction for skill development
  3. Woman Empowerment : digital literacy along with access will open the world for the average Indian lady. At home, she will have exposure and connectivity which will have the potential to deliver both social and economic empowerment to women
  4. Employability : this will increase the employability of the youth of the day, also reducing the urban rural divide in the context
  5. E-Commerce : with significant number of households connected and literate, a significant part of banking and transactions could be digitized, thereby streamlining the currency circulation.

The figure below depicts the impact that can be attained via an aggressive, nationwide project that drives access and literacy, coupled with a strong political will to incentivize usage through various means available.

Image

Conclusively, one can say that if the government to come ignores digital literacy and ICT then it is clearly ignoring obvious and inexorable trends that other economies are following in investing in more efficient ways of empowering citizens, delivering services, combating stigmas (like corruption) and increasing productivity.

Hence I strongly urge my seniors to join hands with the industry in this vision, once we form a government. Thereafter, we must encourage ICT adoption by incentives and policies that encourage Citizens and partners to drive adoption in rural India.

This one initiative can help us realize the India of Tagore’s Dreams, which he described as,

“Chitto jetha bhayashunyo, uccha jetha shir, gyan jetha mukto..” which means

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; Where knowledge is free…”

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