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The Digital Gap: A Persisting and Evolving Challenge to Development
By admin November 14, 2018

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A digital gap between the rich and the poor is deepening inequality around the world. A 2018 Pew Research survey found that about 50 percent of low-income US households do not have access to high-speed internet or traditional computers at home. Nearly one third of Americans from low-income households do not own a smartphone, while the affluent are likely to enjoy multiple electronic devices, such as laptops, smartphones and tablets, at the same time.

The gap is even more striking on a global scale. According to a World Bank Group report, the world’s offline population concentrates in developing countries, such as India and China, and consists mainly of poor people. Nearly 71 percent of households in the bottom 40 percent of their countries’ income distribution don’t have access to the internet.

One reason why we should care about the digital gap between the rich and the poor is that it is one of the major barriers to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality, quality education and industry innovation. To start with, the digital disparity affects the employment outcome for people at different positions of the income spectrum. Because technologies are unaffordable or inaccessible for low-income households, workers from these households lack the technology skills necessary to find a well-paid job or improve their working efficiency. In addition, as education becomes more and more digitalized, the inequality stemming from the digital divide is likely to persist among future generations because low access to internet and technologies are highly correlated with poor learning outcome. In a Pew survey of teacher, students’ inadequate access to internet and technology at home and at school is reported as a “major challenge” for incorporating technology into teaching. Students lacking digital access are also more likely to face higher academic burdens and take longer time to complete their homework, which is known as the “homework gap”.

Governments and international development organizations have proposed many solutions to narrow the digital gap, such as equal access to basic technologies. However, The World Bank highlights in its report that the rapid expansion of Internet access has failed to reduce inequalities because the benefits of technologies are largely reaped by the better-off and the more highly skilled. “For digital dividends to be widely shared among all parts of society, countries also need to improve their business climate, invest in people’s education and health, and promote good governance,” the report recommends.

While we are tackling the traditional digital gap between the rich and the poor, a new type of disparity emerges. A study by Common Sense Media shows that low-income teenagers tend to be more screen dependent than their high-income peers, which will harm their abilities to focus and to interact with people in the real world. The data shows that lower-income teenagers on average spend more than eight hours a day on different kinds of screens for entertainment, while higher income peers spend five hours and 42 minutes.

It may seem ironic that the rich people are trying to get their children off the screens, while governments in many developing countries are struggling to connect the poor online. This could be another manifestation of the widening digital gap.

 

FURTHER READINGS:

World Development Report: Digital Dividends

Internet/Broadband Fact Sheet

The Digital Gap Between Rich and Poor Kids Is Not What We Expected

Bridging a Digital Divide That Leaves Schoolchildren Behind

Digital divide persists even as lower-income Americans make gains in tech adoption

A technology gap between the rich and poor is deepening US inequality

Spread of internet has not conquered ‘digital divide’ between rich and poor – report


Thanks for sharing !


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