Though the acceleration of technology penetration – accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic – has taken place across many sectors, there are some areas in which the digital divide has been felt most acutely. Here are three examples:
As schools, colleges and universities shuttered at the start of the nationwide lockdown, many parents and students found their usual in-class learning taking place primarily at home.
Educational technology, or edtech, has long been seen as the future for a country in which education is largely viewed as a pathway to self-improvement. While India saw the launch of 4,450 edtech startups from 2014 to 2019, COVID-19 proved to be an accelerant for this trend. From virtual teaching platforms, to open-source curriculum databases, to online test prep software, edtech solutions promise to make learning more flexible and accessible. However, as the millions of Indian students currently learning remotely can attest, these solutions are only meaningful for those with stable, consistent internet access. While schools in wealthy urban areas have taken advantage of virtual learning as a method to establish educational continuity, students from rural areas and lower-income backgrounds are often given paper workbooks and exercises with little follow-up from their schools. And even for those students with internet access, lack of vernacular-language solutions means limited options compared to their English-speaking counterparts. While edtech might be the next big transformation in the education sector, its implementation has the potential to further widen the achievement gap between wealthy and low-income students across India.
Formal Employment Sector
The pandemic has also highlighted an ever-growing divide between those members of the formal and informal sectors of the Indian economy.
A 2018 report from the International Labor Organisation found that close to 81% percent of the working population of India make a living by working in the informal sector. “Informal” employment comprises many jobs in agriculture, domestic and service workers, industrial and factory work as well as food and grocery services. While the majority of professional, formal sector employees were able to take advantage of virtual conferencing and team productivity software to continue remote work during the lockdown, most informal workers found themselves suddenly jobless and without an income source. Though work and productivity tech solutions might make formal sector jobs more resilient, they are also widening the gap between workers.
Over the last few months, reliable access to healthcare and medical services has become more essential than ever.
Telehealth and other digital health technologies have seen a growth in popularity as worried Indians try to seek medical advice without visiting overwhelmed hospitals or violating local lockdowns. Startups such as Practo are experiencing an almost 100% week on week increase in users on their platform searching for counsel on COVID-19 and other medical needs. In the future, digital health technologies have the ability to expand rural health delivery and enhance limited healthcare infrastructure. At the moment, however, they are a false promise. During a pandemic, in a country where 60% of doctors serve only 30% of the population, urban patients receive care while hospitals in rural villages turn away patients due to lack of resources and protective equipment. As it currently stands, it is clear that healthcare technology developments prioritize the comfort of the few over the welfare of the many.
If you would like to read more about this and learn what can be done to create a more equal and inclusive future for all, please read more here.