In the middle of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the digital divide rears its ugly head. People resort to Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) to adapt to the evolving uncertainty and operate with minimal disturbance as much of society grinds to a standstill. Companies are being compelled to embrace remote working arrangements, which are made possible by a variety of productivity and videoconferencing solutions. Due to school closures, lessons have been moved online. The use of digital technology to mediate effective communication among family members and friends has increased as a result of quarantine limitations.
Our recent experience with COVID-19 demonstrates that adjusting to these unusual situations is not easy. People who do not have access to ICTs are much more disadvantaged than they were previously. In many circumstances, technology’s lifeline is only available to those who have access to it.
At the end of 2019, the International Telecommunication Union predicted that 3.6 billion people were still without access to the internet. In Least Developed Countries, where two out of every ten individuals are online, the situation is significantly worse. While progress has been achieved in closing the digital divide, COVID-19 has highlighted how insecure access to ICTs is in many regions of the world, and how many people still lack access to unrestricted and empowering ICTs. This issue manifests itself in a variety of ways, including who has access to knowledge and the digital educational divide.
In the COVID-19 era, having access to reliable information is critical. Message applications and digital platforms have been enlisted to distribute factual information about the pandemic in response to our fragmented and often confused information landscape. Digital technology have been adopted by governments, such as Macau’s, and organizations, such as the World Health Organization, to offer reliable COVID-19 reporting. Those who do not have access to digital technology, on the other hand, will be unable to respond to the ongoing crisis with the appropriate information unless there is a proportionate response to deliver the same information through alternative channels. This is especially important given the widespread disinformation and misleading news surrounding COVID-19.
Disruptions in the delivery of courses to students and the change to online learning have exacerbated the digital educational divide in the field of education and learning. COVID-19 has prompted school closures in around 1.5 billion students, according to UNESCO. This equates to 89.4 percent of all registered students worldwide. Unfortunately, making the switch to virtual classrooms isn’t easy, especially when the necessary equipment is lacking, such as a reliable electrical supply, computers, and internet access. Concerns have also been expressed about how individuals who are already disadvantaged in terms of access to ICTs, such as girls, may be harmed even more as a result of the current scenario.
This brings us to the conclusion that, while the present pandemic may be new to many of us, the digital gap has long existed. People’s meaningful engagement in the digital society continues to be hampered by disparities in access to ICTs across various fault lines, including gender, age, and socioeconomic position. On the other hand, the fact that the digital divide is an old phenomenon means that we already have some basic knowledge and instruments to examine its causes, processes, and potential solutions.