- GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Pandemic & Inequality in Digital World
Context: The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies in India, even for essential services such as health and education, where access to them might be poor.
Digital Issues in Education
- Access to computer: According to National Sample Survey data from 2017, only 6% rural households and 25% urban households have a computer.
- Access to internet: Smartphones with data will have improved access over the past four years, yet a significant number of the most vulnerable are struggling. Access to Internet facilities is not universal either: 17% in rural areas and 42% in urban areas.
- Structural Obstacles in accessibility: As per survey by Azim Premji Foundation, between 27% and 60% could not access online classes for a range of reasons: lack of devices, shared devices, inability to buy “data packs”, etc.
- Challenges in Online Examination: Lack of stable connectivity jeopardises their evaluations (imagine the Internet going off for two minutes during a timed exam).
- Lack of learning Environment at home: A quiet space to study is a luxury for many. For instance, 25% Indians lived in single-room dwellings in 2017-19.
- Disproportionate Burden on girls: For girls, there is the additional expectation that they will contribute to domestic chores if they are at home.
- Peer learning has also suffered due to shift to online mode of learning.
Digital Issues in Health
- Developing App is seen as solution: Right now, the focus is on the shortage of essentials: drugs, hospital beds, oxygen, vaccines. In several instances, developing an app is being seen as a solution for allocation of various health services
- Additional bureaucracy: Digital “solutions” create additional bureaucracy for all sick persons in search of these services. Along with paper work, patients will have to navigate digi-work.
- Challenges for Poor & illiterate: Platform- and app-based solutions can exclude the poor entirely, or squeeze their access to scarce health services further. The use of CoWIN to book a slot makes it that much harder for those without phones, computers and the Internet.
- Misuse of situation to expand UHID: Pandemic is being used to create an infrastructure for future exploitation of people’s data. The digital Universal health ID (UHID) project is being pushed during the pandemic when its merits cannot be adequately debated.
Digital solutions are not the magic pill which solves all the problems of Pandemic. Digital solution is only the means to address the shortages being faced by health infrastructure of our country.