Devi Verma, 37, hails from Jharkhand and is a “digital illiterate” who works as a domestic help in Ghaziabad. She can read and write, but can use her “basic” Rs 1,200 mobile phone only to see the time and make or receive a call. Other than that, she does not know what all other activities her mobile phone can help her perform. Devi is one among the crores of people in India who come under the category of “digital illiterates” and form a desperate consumer base in need of mass digital literacy drives and community digital resource centers.
Experts have emphasised on the need for new holistic programmes and expansion of the existing schemes that can provide advanced digital literacy. Speaking about the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) which is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Digital India” initiative, Osama Manzar, founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), said, “Since DEF was involved in the formulation of the NDLM framework, we know that the project has been designed in such a way that it is supposed to reach the maximum number of people. Last year, the government had set a target of 0.4 crore people, and this year, they increased it to six crore people. This is a good sign. It means that the government is taking digital literacy very seriously. However, the government has been very traditional in its implementation.”
“While six crore is a big and commendable number, it would be better if the government had set this target from the perspective of institutions. Instead of targeting six crore random individuals, the government can focus on providing digital literacy to aanganwadi workers, government school teachers, panchayat representatives, government servants, self-help groups, etc. If this route to digital literacy is taken, the impact could be on an institutional scale. More people will be impacted through a multiplier effect,” said Manzar.
Gurumurthy Kasinathan, director of “IT for Change”, a Bangalore-based NGO, said: “Our policymakers still believe that the ‘market model’ will improve digital literacy in the country. The pipelines required for the ‘optic fibre’ have been laid by the government and cover 90% of the country. But the public sector expects that the wires in those pipelines should be laid by the companies themselves.”
Manzar said, “The government should seriously look at its ambitions National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN) project, which was supposed to connect India’s over 2.5 lakh panchayats with broadband connectivity. The government should look at creating Wi-Fi access zones in urban and rural areas, which is totally absent at the moment.”
Kasinathan believes that digital literacy needs to be promoted by the state governments and should be funded by the public sector. “We need more government funded Community Knowledge Centers (CKCs), like the ones in Karnataka. The Kerala government’s ‘Akshaya’ initiative has already provided us with a model to make states 100% digitally literate. Other states should look to improvise it.”