The digital divide refers to the gap between individuals or communities who have access to digital technologies and the internet and those who do not. It encompasses disparities in terms of technological infrastructure, connectivity, and digital literacy. The digital divide can be observed at various levels, such as within countries, between urban and rural areas, and among different socio-economic groups.
In the context of Nepal, the digital divide is quite prominent. While urban areas and some privileged sections of society have access to digital resources, rural and marginalized communities face significant challenges in accessing technology and the internet.
Let’s consider an example to illustrate this: In a remote village in Nepal, situated in the hilly region, there is no reliable electricity supply, let alone internet connectivity. The villagers, including students, do not have access to computers, smartphones, or the internet. As a result, they are cut off from the wealth of information, educational resources, and opportunities available online.
In contrast, in urban areas like Kathmandu and major cities, internet connectivity is relatively better, and digital devices are more accessible. Schools and colleges in these areas often have computer labs, internet facilities, and trained teachers who can guide students in using technology for learning purposes. Students in urban areas have the advantage of accessing online educational platforms, participating in virtual classrooms, and exploring digital resources to enhance their knowledge and skills.
According to the World Bank, as of 2022, approximately 97.7 percent of Nepal’s population had access to electricity. However, it is important to note that access to electricity can vary significantly between urban and rural areas. While urban areas tend to have better electricity infrastructure, rural areas may still face challenges in terms of reliable and consistent power supply.
Internet penetration in Nepal has been steadily increasing in recent years, but there is still a digital divide between urban and rural areas. According to the World Bank, as of 2022, the internet penetration rate was estimated to be around 54.88 percent. This means that approximately 54.88 percent of the population had access to the internet.
This disparity in access to technology creates a significant digital divide between rural and urban areas in Nepal. The lack of access to digital resources in rural communities hampers educational opportunities, limits economic prospects, and widens the gap between different regions and socio-economic groups.
The digital divide in Nepal is not only limited to rural and urban disparities but also extends to marginalized communities, such as disadvantaged groups. These communities often face additional challenges related to language barriers, limited digital literacy, and inadequate infrastructure, further exacerbating the digital divide within the country.
Digital literacy for youth
Digital literacy plays a crucial role in empowering youths in today’s technologically driven world. Following are reasons highlighting the importance of digital literacy for youth empowerment.
First, it makes access to information and knowledge easier. Digital literacy equips young people with the skills and knowledge to effectively navigate and utilize digital platforms. It enables them to access a vast amount of information, educational resources, and online learning opportunities. By being digitally literate, youths can expand their knowledge base, enhance their learning experiences, and stay updated with current information and trends.
Second, digital literacy opens doors to a wide range of educational opportunities. Online courses, virtual classrooms, and educational platforms provide access to quality education regardless of geographical location or institutional constraints. With digital literacy skills, youths can leverage these resources to enhance their academic pursuits, acquire new skills, and prepare for future careers.
Third, it helps in employment and economic opportunities. In the digital era, digital literacy is essential for employability and entrepreneurship. Proficiency in using digital tools, communication platforms, and online collaboration enhances job prospects and entrepreneurship potential. Digital literacy equips youths with the skills necessary to navigate the digital job market, access remote work opportunities, and adapt to the changing demands of the workforce.
Fourth, digital literacy fosters critical thinking skills by teaching youths how to evaluate information, discern credible sources, and analyze digital content. This enables them to become critical consumers of media and develop their own informed opinions. Digital literacy also nurtures problem-solving abilities, as youths learn to troubleshoot technical issues, adapt to new technologies, and find creative solutions in the digital realm.
We need to involve local communities in the planning, implementation, and maintenance of digital initiatives. We also need to empower community-based organizations to take ownership of digital projects and ensure sustainability through their active involvement.
Fifth, digital literacy empowers youths to participate actively in the digital sphere, enabling them to engage in social and civic issues. Digital platforms provide avenues for expressing opinions, raising awareness, and mobilizing for social causes. By being digitally literate, youths can effectively use digital tools for advocacy, activism, and community-building.
Finally, digital literacy encompasses knowledge of online safety, privacy, and digital well-being. Young people need to understand the risks and challenges associated with the digital world, including cyberbullying, online scams, and digital footprint management. Digital literacy equips youths with the necessary skills to protect themselves, make responsible choices, and maintain their well-being in the digital space.
Challenges to bridging digital divide
Bridging the digital divide in Nepal presents several challenges that need to be addressed. Here are some of the key challenges. First among them is infrastructure limitations. Nepal’s challenging geographical terrain, including mountainous regions and remote rural areas, poses significant obstacles to establishing robust ICT infrastructure. Building and maintaining reliable connectivity infrastructure can be logistically and financially demanding in such areas.
Limited access in rural areas poses another challenge. Rural communities in Nepal often face a lack of access to electricity and internet connectivity. Many remote villages are still without reliable power supply, making it challenging to establish and sustain digital infrastructure. The absence of adequate connectivity hinders opportunities for education, entrepreneurship, and access to online services.
Likewise, the cost of digital devices, internet services, and electricity can be a barrier for individuals and communities with limited financial resources. Many people in Nepal, particularly in rural and marginalized communities, struggle to afford Smartphones, computers, and the associated expenses of internet access. Affordability remains a significant challenge in making digital resources accessible to all.
Then there is the digital literacy and skills gap. Ensuring digital literacy and skills among the population is crucial for bridging the divide. Many individuals, especially in rural areas, lack the necessary skills to navigate digital platforms, effectively use digital tools, and critically evaluate online information. Addressing the digital skills gap and providing comprehensive digital literacy training programs is essential to empower individuals to make the most of digital opportunities.
Nepal is linguistically diverse, with numerous ethnic languages spoken across the country. The availability of digital content and services in local languages is limited, making it challenging for individuals who are not proficient in English or Nepali to fully benefit from digital resources. Language barriers need to be overcome to ensure inclusive digital access and content availability.
Women and girls in Nepal often face additional challenges in accessing and utilizing digital technology. Gender disparities in education, social norms, and limited access to resources can contribute to a digital gender divide. Addressing these disparities through targeted programs and initiatives is crucial for achieving gender equality in digital access and literacy.
Cyber security and privacy is another crucial issue. As digital connectivity expands, the risks associated with cyber security threats, privacy breaches, and online scams increase. Ensuring the security and privacy of individuals’ digital interactions is paramount. Strengthening cyber security measures, raising awareness about online risks, and promoting responsible digital behavior are essential components of bridging the digital divide.
Bridging the digital divide
To address the challenges in bridging the digital divide in Nepal, several potential solutions can be considered. Some of them have been proposed below.
First, there should be investment in expanding ICT infrastructure, particularly in rural and remote areas. This includes establishing reliable electricity supply, improving connectivity through the deployment of broadband infrastructure, and leveraging innovative technologies such as satellite internet to reach underserved areas.
Second, there should be collaborations between the government, private sector, and non-profit organizations. Public-private partnerships can help mobilize resources, expertise, and technology to bridge the digital divide. Further, telecommunication companies, internet service providers, and technology firms should expand their services to underserved areas.
Third, we should recognize the ubiquity of mobile devices and leverage them to provide access to digital services. Expansion of the coverage of mobile networks and promotion of the use of mobile applications and platforms that offer educational content, health services, and e-commerce opportunities are equally important.
Fourth, we need to implement comprehensive digital literacy programs targeting individuals of all ages, particularly focusing on rural and marginalized communities. These programs should provide training on basic computer skills, internet usage, online safety, and critical thinking. Collaboration with educational institutions, NGOs, and community organizations to reach a wider audience is equally important.
Fifth, we need to implement measures to reduce the cost of digital devices, internet connectivity, and electricity. This can include providing subsidies, promoting low-cost internet packages, and introducing policies to make digital devices more affordable through import tax reductions or incentives for local manufacturing.
Sixth, it is necessary to encourage the development of digital content in local languages, making it more accessible and relevant to diverse communities. Support is needed for the translation and localization of educational resources, government services, and online content to ensure inclusivity and engagement for all language groups.
Seventh, we need to implement targeted initiatives to bridge the gender gap in digital access and skills. We need to promote digital literacy programs specifically designed for women and girls, provide scholarships for STEM education, and create safe spaces for them to learn and engage with digital technologies.
Eighth, we also need to strengthen cyber security infrastructure and promote awareness campaigns to educate individuals about online risks and best practices. Also, we need to collaborate with law enforcement agencies, academia, and industry experts to develop policies and strategies to combat cyber threats effectively.
Ninth, community participation and ownership is key. We need to involve local communities in the planning, implementation, and maintenance of digital initiatives. We also need to empower community-based organizations to take ownership of digital projects and ensure sustainability through their active involvement.
Finally, policy and regulatory reforms are vital. We need to review and update policies and regulations to create an enabling environment for bridging the digital divide. This includes incentivizing private sector investments, streamlining licensing procedures, promoting competition, and formulating policies that prioritize digital inclusion and access as key national objectives.
By implementing these potential solutions in a coordinated and inclusive manner, Nepal can make significant progress in bridging the digital divide, empowering its citizens, and fostering socio-economic development across the country.
Abinash Gajurel is an animation enthusiast. He can be reached at [email protected]