A digital divide is a form of inequality that manifests in social and economic spheres as a result of some sections of a community that do not access and use knowledge with respect to information and communications technology (ICT). From a multinational perspective, the divide that exists between countries due to limited access to ICT is known as global digital gap (Lu and Mingxin 5).
In the recent past, it has been argued that ICT is critical to achieving many positive impacts on society, which could be realized in terms of social changes and excellent development outcomes. The internet is one of the best applied ICT resources to attaining social changes and economic developments.
However, it is notable that only seven percent of people in Africa can access the internet. In fact, it is not only people in the continent that have limited access to online resources, but also other citizens in many developing nations that are outside Africa. This paper discusses how ICT impacts economies around the world.
It highlights the steps that the United Nations has taken to reduce the negative impacts of the digital divide. In addition, it provides information about organizations that are addressing the issue in their programs. Finally, it provides a case study of a nation in Africa that is implementing effective strategies to reduce the divide.
The United Nations states that the digital divide is a “gap that exists between those who have ready access to ICT and the skills that make use of technology and those who do not have the access or the skills to use the same technology within a geographical area and/or community” (United Nations 3). Various reasons have been suggested to explain why the gap exists in the modern world. For example, some persons argue that the issue is greatly impacted by income levels among people in the population.
Thus, it would be expected that rich people use ICT more than poor people (Youqian and Bingsi 4). As a result of the knowledge that is generated from ICT tools, rich persons in society continue to prosper in terms of material possessions. Thus, it is correct to assert that the “traditional third world is being defined by the extent to which a nation has access to and use digital technologies, which are applicable to many sectors of the economy” (United Nations 7).
The United Nations aims at significantly reducing the digital gap among nations to foster economic development in many industries. The commitment by the global body can be viewed from the perspective of its main goals, which focus on uniting all people and nations across the world. The agency holds that sustainable development can be achieved by adopting modern communication tools, such as ICT instruments that support electronic governments.
It is no doubt that nations that have incorporated ICT in their public offices have improved sustainable development. The United Nations concentrates on reducing the digital gap by addressing several aspects, such as ICT penetration, ICT take-up rates, ICT contexts, and knowledge levels among people in offices and those being offered services. In my opinion, I think that the UN can assist many countries and persons if it could succeed in its ambitious goal of reducing the digital divide.
In fact, I believe that it has taken the right steps in identifying aspects that could hamper its objectives. For example, in 2012, it conducted a survey to determine the number of vulnerable groups that could not access and use electronic government tools (United Nations 13). However, it is disheartening to learn that many governments do not integrate vulnerable groups and encourage them to use ICT instruments.
In my opinion, the United Nations will not succeed in its goal of reducing the digital divide around the world. My opinion could be supported by two key reasons. First, the program requires efforts from various governments. In other words, a nation should be willing to use electronic government structures. If there is no good will from the leadership, then the UN cannot succeed. It can be argued that many governments would not be willing to incorporate ICT into their governance structures.
Second, the use of ICT requires people to be equipped with knowledge in terms of reading and writing. However, in the developing world, many people do not read and write, implying that they cannot use basic ICT applications. Thus, the UN might be forced to ensure that all people around the world are educated before it would reduce the digital gap.
Private companies and foundations are also at the forefront to reduce the digital divide. For example, the International Business Machines (IBM) and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among others are keen on ensuring that people and nations are not impacted negatively by their limited to and use of ICT tools.
For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gives grants to various libraries within and outside the US to help to design and use structures that can go a long way in reducing the digital gap (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 1).
Although excellent funding supports its efforts, it will require the commitment of governments. As stated in the case of the UN, the level of illiteracy is very high in the developing world, implying that even the private bodies will not be successful in the near future. However, if governments can encourage and support their citizens to be educated, then the efforts of private companies can remarkably reduce the digital gap.
Many countries in Africa do not have excellent use of ICT tools due to lack of systems for supporting such platforms. This is attributed to low educational levels and lack of funds to maintain ICT programs. However, Liberia is among the nations in Africa that have significantly reduced the digital divide (Treisman 1). The government in the nation has utilized ICT structures that have resulted in a better utilization of public information. Many agencies are working hard to ensure that people have better lives due to use of ICT.
For example, the Accountability Lab and iLab Liberia are at the forefront to ensure that a data hub goes a long way in supporting the operations of the government. This is being done “in collaboration with the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs, and Tourism” (Treisman 13). The Accountability Lab hopes that the digital gap will be reduced in the nation in the short-term because many people are using digital mobile tools, such as phones, for communication.
From the discussion in this paper, it is evident that ICT tools are essential to economic growth. The digital gap is apparent in nations where illiteracy levels are high. The UN and other agencies aim at reducing the negative impacts of the issue. However, governments in many nations around the world should be willing to support their efforts. Liberia is among the nations in Africa that have benefited in relation to the use of ICT tools.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Library Program distributes final round of grant applications. 2013. Web.
Lu, Wei, and Zhang Mingxin. “The Third Digital Divide: The Knowledge Gap on the Internet [J].” Journalism & Communication 4.8 (2006): 5-9. Print.
Treisman, Loren. Access to information: bridging the digital divide in Africa. 2014. Web.
United Nations. Bridging the digital divide by reaching out to vulnerable populations. 2013. Web.
Youqian, Wu, and Fan Bingsi. “On the digital gap and the role of public libraries during the network era [J].” New Century Library 5 (2004): 1-12. Print.