Friday, September 01, 2006

Eradicate The Digital Divide – Stakeholders not doing enough or not doing right!

Government and civil society organisations in developing countries need to put more concerted and holistic initiatives not to just “bridge the digital divide” but “eradicate the digital divide”. When Malaysia gained independence from colonial rule and started her socio-economic development programmes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, comprehensive “literacy eradication” programmes were implemented. These “literacy eradication” programmes provided the skills for reading and writing, but also more importantly initiated mind-set changes for the socio-economically marginalised to value literacy and to make best use of their new found knowledge for self, family and community development. Malaysia’s rural development programmes were then of world class and provided models and best practices for other developing nations. The success was among others due to full commitment and concerted effort by the nation’s political leadership, government, civil society organisations and the communities themselves. There was a sense of mission and mass movement to do so.

At present, literacy is no longer a big issue in Malaysia, but the digital divide is. Numerous “bridging the digital divide” or BDD programmes and projects are being implemented nationwide by government and non-government organisations including the private sector. However, unlike the “literacy eradication” programmes in earlier years of the nation’s Independence, ICT literacy and bridging the digital divide are not viewed as critical for socio-economic development. Where it is viewed so, misguided approaches and false objectives are usually the norm, thus leading to failures or sub-optimal outcomes of such programmes.

Much research and literature is available on the importance of bridging the digital divide, ICT for development (ICT4D) and “e-Inclusion”. Malaysia has also formulated it own National Information Technology Agenda or NITA which provide a comprehensive policy framework towards value use of ICTs toward development of a knowledge-based society. Unfortunately the principles of NITA, ICT4D and e-Inclusion are not fully understood by most, from the top political leadership down to field level programme implementers, leading to poor programme design or implementation, inefficiencies, suboptimal outcomes or even counter productive results. If this issue is not properly addressed, the socio-economic marginalised sections of society will remain marginalised and the poor will remain relatively poor, leading to obvious implications in the nation’s development.