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Bridging the digital divide (1)

By Hadiza Umar
“Digital inclusion brings about a level playing field. It means that the little girl in a village in Nigeria can get information for her research project as a little girl in Washington or China.”— Professor Turner Isoun, Former Minister of Science and Technology

The term digital
divide according to Wikipedia refers to  the gap between people with effective access to digital  and information technology  and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalances in physical access to technology  as well as the imbalances in resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen .In other words, it is the unequal access by some members of society  to information and communication technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills.

The term is closely related to the knowledge divide  as the lack of technology causes lack of useful information and knowledge.Digital divide is currently referred to as gaps in the ownership of, or regular access to a computer. As internet came to be seen as a central aspect of computing, the usage of the term shifted to encompass gaps in not just computers but also access to the internet. The world is undergoing an Information Communications Technology (ICT) revolution, a revolution that has enormous social and economic implications for the developed and less developed countries of the world.

A gigantic gulf already exists between the industrialised and developing countries in terms of access to ICTs (this includes radio, computers, TV and mobile phones). The criteria often used to assess the imbalance between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of the digital divide tend to focus on access to hardware and to the Internet, but the nature of the digital divide is both contextual and debatable.

Widespread poverty across the developing world has  complex and multiple reasons; lack of access to information that is essential to the lives of the poor is one such reason. Poor access to education and knowledge is another; this is particularly acute for girls and women.

Lisa Servon argued in
2002 that the digital divide “is a symptom of a larger and more complex problem – the problem of persistent poverty and inequality”. As described by Mehra (2004), the four major components that contribute to the digital divide are “socioeconomic status, with income, educational level, and race among other factors associated with technological attainment”.

In today’s society, jobs and education are directly related to the Internet, in that the advantages that come from the Internet are so significant that neglecting them would leave a company vulnerable in a changing market.“

Andy Grove, the former chair of Intel, said that by the mid-2000s all companies will be Internet companies, or they won’t be companies at all.” In countries where the Internet and other technologies are not accessible, education is suffering, and uneducated people and societies that are not benefiting from the information age, cannot compete in the global economy .

This leads to developing countries, suffering greater economic downfall and richer countries advancing their education and economy. However, when dealing with the global aspect of digital divide there are several factors that lead to digital divide. For example, country of residence, ethnicity , gender, age, educational attainment, and income  levels are all factors of the global aspects of digital divide.

Recognition of digital divide as an immense problem has led Governments, scholars, policy makers, and the public to understand the “potential of the Internet to improve everyday life for those on the margins of society and to achieve greater social equity and empowerment”.

According to the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), one of the key principle for building an inclusive information society thereby bridging the digital divide and ensuring harmonious fair and equitable development for all requires an improved access to information and communication infrastructure and technology as well as to information and knowledge; building capacity; increased confidence and security in the use of ICTs; create an enabling environment at all levels; develop and widen ICT applications; foster and respect cultural diversity; recognise the role of the media, address the ethical dimension of the information society; and encourage international and regional cooperation.


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