India and digital literacy: Lockdown-induced dependence on digital tools for everyday work and education

The preceding month we observed September 8th as the International Literacy Day. The town (virtual at least) was painted red as anyone with an internet connection must have seen, one or more mentions of the event on every online social platform. Some might argue the theme put up by the UN for 2021 “Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide” was as apt as it could get, as one of the major after-effects of the COVID19 pandemic was the lockdown-induced dependence on digital tools for everyday work and education.

India having battled the horrendous second wave, the crumpled economy, the exasperated healthcare system, the recent developments in external affairs, has had its fair share of struggles to overcome. What causes great concern, however, is the loss of schooling and the neglect of the said topic. The gap in the education of students who are falling behind now because of Covid restrictions may never be filled and they might not catch up in their skills, job prospects, and income.

According to The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology “the ability of individuals and communities to understand and use digital technologies for meaningful actions within life situations. Any individual who can operate computer/laptop/tablet/smartphone and use other IT related tools is being considered as digitally literate.” Only 38% of Indian households are digitally literate if we go by the above definition, let alone the disparities of rural/urban spaces and the divide in various regional and social groups. There’s a dire need to refocus the state’s attention to building an upskilled and secure education system.

Governments of Kerala and Goa with more than 70% digitally literate households are already paving the way. Kerala took up projects like Akshaya (2002) which made Mallapuram the first e-literate district in India and Goa signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Google India (2016), to promote digital literacy and drive digital transformation across the state.

New initiatives by various central technical universities like the NPTEL under MHRD initiated by 7 IITs along with the IISc, Bangalore in 2003, can come under the purview of higher technical upskilling,

In line with the Skill India vision, Microsoft in September 2021 launched the Future Ready Talent Program, bringing together a strategic group of partners(like AICTE, NASSCOM, EY, GitHub, and Quess Corp) to empower India’s youth with technology skills for employability. It aims to skill over 1.5 lakh students in data and AI, cloud computing, cybersecurity, etc.

With combined efforts from the people and the Government of India, the pandemic’s catalysis of digitization might not be a far cry from reality rather the truth of the new India!

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