On the occasion of the International Literacy Day, September 8, we call for the end of the digital divide between people, communities and countries
For the past five decades the United Nations has celebrated the International Literacy Day, with this year’s theme being “Literacy in a digital world”. Proclaimed to promote literacy “as an instrument to empower individuals, communities and societies”, this Day is also a reminder of how far we still need to reach until no one is left behind without the ability to write and read.
Although we may not realize, despite great progress done in the past decades, literacy is still a big concern in the 21th century. Recently UNESCO reported that in 2014 278 million adults were still illiterate and 263 million children were out-of school. Likewise, according to UNICEF, 9% of our youth, or a total of 115 million young people aged 15 to 24, remains illiterate, among whom 59% are women and girls. That means 115 million missed opportunities for boys and girls who could not yet reach their full potential and the capacity to fully contribute to society.
When it comes to digital literacy, which means having the knowledge, skills and competencies required to navigate modern technologies, the gap in our societies is troubling.
According to a World Bank 2016 Report, more than half of the world population doesn’t have Internet access, while nearly 2 billion people do not use a mobile phone, and almost half a billion live outside areas with a mobile signal. The gap between countries is also striking: in the 48 Least Developed Countries, only one in seven people is on-line (Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development).
Digital illiteracy harms opportunities for new discoveries and innovative solutions to combat multidimensional poverty and affects the pace of development in societies. It also reinforces the marginalization of individuals and groups and enhances the division between peoples, communities and countries. As UNESCO points out, digital technologies enable services to be delivered in a more accessible and efficient way, “offering opportunities for people to benefit from information and services that are not available in their immediate environments”.
Ending the “digital divide” will require efforts in many fronts. To mention a few, governments have the responsibility of making digital education available to all, partnering with civil society to improve the reach to vulnerable populations and the understanding of needs.
Statisticians must produce and monitor disaggregated data on digital literacy skills and access to technology; and producers of modern technology should develop products that are affordable, accessible, resistant and durable. Lastly, when it comes to you and I, we should ask ourselves this question: “is there anything that we can do to help achieving digital literacy for all?”