The issues around Digital Divide increase with advancement in technology. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic birthed the ‘new normal’ where most things are now done online, and this seems to have exposed the already existing effect of the digital divide on the African continent, and the urgent need to bridge the divide for an inclusive digital economy.
On the 29th of July 2021 Paradigm Initiative hosted a session in the 2021 West African Internet Governance Forum with the theme “Bridging the digital divide for an inclusive digital economy.” This session had four powerful speakers from different regions of Africa speaking to a virtual audience of 96 persons. The session was focused on identifying digital divide gaps and proffering solutions on how to overcome them. At the end of the session, the speakers were able to identify some challenges which they have encountered in the course of their work in the digital space in Africa, which are contributing to widening the digital divide gap in Africa. They also went further to share out of their experiences some of the things that should be done to mitigate these challenges.
Digital divide issues/challenges
- Low ICT literacy rate.
- Low digital economy literacy.
- Inadequate Infrastructure.
- Unequal access to digital technology.
- Lack of government investment in startups, to encourage the technology innovation sector.
- High cost of device and internet data.
- lack of policy that will enable the participation of everyone in the digital economy.
- Lack of policy implementation.
- Inadequate/unfavourable government policies.
- Language barrier; ICT content language is not diverse enough, this is a barrier for some people, especially those living in rural areas.
- Lack of training resources especially for people with disabilities.
- Assistive technology for people with disabilities is quite expensive.
Solutions to bridging the digital divide
- Government should create a policy directive that makes ICT and digital skills compulsory subjects in school, and it should be added to the syllabus.
- In ICT education, facilities, and an enabling environment should be provided through Public and Private sector Partnerships (PPP).
- Private and civil society organizations should join hands with the government in developing programs for digital awareness in the community where they are located.
- Government should support ICT innovations from startups by creating an enabling environment for them to thrive.
- Government should partner with device manufacturers to produce affordable ICT devices and reduce internet access costs.
- Big Technology companies make a lot of profits. They should consolidate their corporate social responsibilities in terms of digital skills acquisition and provision of infrastructures that facilitate access.
- In designing and developing devices and applications, developers should have people with disabilities in mind.
- People need to be educated about the digital economy and this could be done through adequate awareness creation programs on the subject by government and civil society organisations.
- Localizing ICT training content is very important in education. Training contents should be available in multiple languages, so lots of people can benefit from it, especially for people in rural areas.
In trying to bridge the digital divide for an inclusive digital economy everyone has a role to play. Government should make an intentional effort to collaborate with the Private sector, civil society, and individuals by ensuring that policies are in place to cater for the development of the digital ecosystem; In the stage of policy implementation, everybody has to be involved. Implementation of policy can start at any level, so everyone (The government, public and private sector, civil society and the people) has a role to play, on various levels of inclusion. We can’t just sit and wait.