Digital inequality during COVID-19 amid countryside students

Image: AID India

(The Asian Independent)

– Dr. Santosh Kumar & Shivmohan Prajapati

The astonishing developments in the field of information and communication technologies (ICT) have accelerated human communication and made it easier and accessible than ever before. It has entered every sphere of human lives therefore everything is going to be digital e.g. geographies, demographics, democracies, politics, governance, policies, life and society. And this can be looked at from various perspectives viz, caste and gender inequalities, social security, state welfare, etc. and through other interventions of academic disciplines.

Indian society has been deeply rooted with the problem of caste-based social segregation, gender, and that hinders people from accessing mainstream society, resources and opportunities. And in this given context, information acts as a capital held by elites and higher castes (one fifth population) in Indian society. If we look at the human reachability over the virtual world i.e. on the internet, we find some more fascinating things. There are over 4.5 billion people have now internet connection or accessibility (see www.internetlivestats.com) which is almost over half the world population. Trillions of emails sent in a day to their respective destinations with full authenticity and billions of people watch everyday multimedia contents on YouTube. Similarly, there are ample of other popular social media networking sites and applications that are utilised in a proliferated way by the public. It shows how much we are dependent upon new ICTs and our lives are too.

At present, everyone has access to a smartphone irrespective of age, gender and educational qualifications. Everyone is now engaged in his or her life with media technologies. However, technologies have its own merits and demerits based on the purpose and behaviours of its usage, accessibility, distribution, adaptation, awareness and the perceived knowledge, etc. Therefore, it has two facets, first; one who usages modern technologies to become more powerful, influential, dominant and progressive where they are capable to access all the information due to their eliteness, living near technical prone zones and urbanisations. On the other side, it is just the opposite. Some people do not have access to those information technologies infrastructures and kept on serving at the margins.

American Clarence Larry Irving coined the term “Digital divide” and elucidates about the distribution inequalities of modern information communication and technologies e.g. mobile phones, telephone, computer, internet, digital TV and broadband in the distinct groups.

In the Indian scenario, it seems there is a more dystopia when we talk about the digital services distribution among the people especially in rural areas and particular groups of tribals, landless labourers in villages, peasants as well. And this is because of the lack of information and opportunities to get knowledge regarding the benefits and future of the digital ecosystem, whereas, in urban societies it is utilising the highest benefits for getting an education, popularity, employment, healthcare and for other wellbeing.

According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) Annual Report 2018-19, India has 636.73 million internet subscribers in March 2019, which is higher than in the fiscal year of 2018, 493.96 million. This proportion reveals both wired and wireless internet subscribers. This is the highest boom ever of Indians on the Internet. But at the same time, it differentiates the users on the basis of urban and rural areas.

As per the Indian Census-2011, the rural population is 68.84 per cent and urban is only 31.16 per cent. If we look therein the distribution of internet, TRAI suggests inverse information about internet users in which urban society has less population but high internet users 97.94 percentages. Meanwhile, the rural population has a high population but low participation in internet technologies, only 25.36 per cent.

The unequal distribution and accessibility of information lead to the rise of many inequalities between urban and rural societies such as in education, jobs, healthcare, governance, gender discrimination, untouchability, etc. For example, very recently a sudden surge in the pandemic of the novel Coronavirus has distorted the education system. Consequently, all the educational institutes are forced to shut down to halt the spread of the virus and keep a check on community transmission of the virus. These days all such academic activities have shifted to the virtual platforms for teaching and learning process and using numerous video chat rooms e.g. Zoom, Webex, Google Meet, etc. These technologies speak of a privilege of knowledge access and owned by those who are at better social status. So the people belonging to the urban zones are more ahead to adapting those technologies albeit it makes it very difficult for far-flung areas.

The reasons are mainly geographical spaces i.e. dense forest areas especially scheduled tribes, a mountainous range, deserts, etc. where the internet does not work properly even in 2G or 3G modes instead of 4G and 5G. In addition, it is very difficult to adapt to primary or middle schooling. They might have a lot of problems such as connectivity of the internet, family awareness about technologies at home, money could be matters for internet tariff due to family poverty in rural India. Albeit, if some other ample populations in rural India have the capacity to buy and use the digital devices but infrastructure not available to connect with it. In consequence, only central schools, colleges, universities students are benefiting and continuing their education but are it more difficult for those belonging from remote areas and poor backgrounds are in the technical margins in this ICTs age.

This “Digital divide” categorises societies into two classes. First, those who are elite, are capable of using technological innovations and are getting best educational access whilst the second is very poor at the facet of this inequality in terms of access to technologies and educational opportunities and are almost out of the extent of innovations. Therefore, now moneyed people have less to lose while the poor have a lot to lose. It leaves a question for government, society and individuals belonging to such societies who are left with mere options and being marginalised due to these technological boundaries created by the elite and trading capitalism. So one needs to ask how it is going to fill the gap for those who are pushed to the margins and the edges of extinction from the education field.

 

Dr. Santosh Kumar is an Assistant Professor of Mass Comm. at MATS University, Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India & Shivmohan Prajapati is the Research Scholar at Center for Studies in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, CUG. Email: (santoshcug@gmail.com)