A digital economy describes the economic activities such as financial services, transactions, and trade that are carried out on digital devices using the internet. Payments made through your credit cards or debit cards, online money transfers, placing pre-paid orders, splitting bills and sending money to your friends through UPI, all contribute to the digital economy of the country. The dynamic nature of technological growth and hyperconnectivity through the internet has accelerated the growth of the digital economy in the last decade.
India is predicted to become a trillion-dollar economy by 2030 and digitalization has a major role to play in it. However, there is still a vast proportion of the population that has not been exposed to the conveniences of technology and the internet.
As the pandemic took over our lives, we had to adapt to the way we worked and studied. Although technology saved the economy from crashing as all work came to a stop but could go on due to internet, it limited underprivileged students in our country from getting an education. Approximately, 15 crore students dropped out of the education system for various reasons such as poor internet connectivity, lack of technological devices or poor financial conditions forcing them to leave institutions and start working. The strongest aspect of the Indian economy is its working population and students. If they start dropping out due to the digital divide, then the education and literacy gap will take the economy back 20 years and no amount of youth population can help the economy develop. For a digital economy to work in its full capacity and for India to reap its benefits, we would first need to reduce the digital divide that exists here. Education institutes should not limit their support to imparting knowledge, but also keep aside funds for financial aids for students belonging to the vulnerable sections of the population or at least ensure that each student is able to continue their studies if the situation of the lockdown persists.
For the economy to reach its forecasted value, technological infrastructure, connectivity and human resources are the foundation we need to begin with. According to statista.com the internet penetration in 2020 was 87% in the USA, 70.4% in China and had just touched 50% in India. To increase the number of internet users, especially in remote areas that are cut off from the main population and losing out on economic and social development, we need policies that not only give these areas access to the internet but also make internet usage affordable. A 24-hour electricity supply is a must, to begin with, for digital development, and with ample sunshine available in almost all parts of India, solar farms can be set up in every remote district to generate an unlimited amount of sustainable energy. The government can then use the hand-holding technique wherein they guarantee a certain number of users to the giant internet providers initially and connect the very backward areas of the country with the internet.
Access to technology and the internet will help connect the remote areas. Take a student in a village who’ll be able to read, understand and see a world away from his home. It would make him aware of the career opportunities available or inspire him to learn from other places in the world and develop his home into a better place. A farmer will be aware about the new technologies in farming, cheaper ways of harvesting, hygienic ways of cattle rearing, etc. Better medical treatment, advanced education, farming and other rural activities will upgrade hence improving the lifestyle and further placing remote areas in the mainstream economy.
Another problem we face is the gender gap which aggravates the problem of the digital divide. According to ORF, women are 15% less likely to own a mobile phone and 33% less likely to use the internet on their mobile devices, than men in India. The old social traditions of limiting woman’s freedom are still practised in major parts of the country, in such situations most women in households are held back from experiencing any kind of technological and digital advancements. Social stigmas are ingrained deep inside the minds of people to the lengths that women themselves turn down using phones. To tackle the gender digital divide in India, internet providers can be incentivized by giving tax benefits to those who give access to more women with the internet, raising awareness for the benefits of technology and holding campaigns to reduce the digital literacy gap between men and women.
Ultimately, acceptance of any new idea requires a lot of motivation and unlearning of deep-rooted social stigmas. Since 2020, out of the three UN Sustainable Goals compromised- Zero Hunger, Quality Education and Gender Equality- the last two goals have been directly affected due to the digital divide. Policies drawn up need multidisciplinary actions from the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the Ministry of Rural Development, etc. and large awareness drives for the same. Less than half the population has access to modern information and communication technology, and more than half are bereft of it. Policies need to be formulated for access to the internet and communication devices far and wide in the country.
Written by Teesta Bose (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Edited by Mehak Vohra