India has made impressive strides in digital technology and internet penetration in recent years, with the government pushing for a Digital India initiative to transform the country into a knowledge economy. However, a major challenge in this journey towards a digital future is the lack of digital literacy among a significant section of the population.
A study published by Nielsen, an audience data and measurement firm, revealed that India has 352 million internet users in rural areas, which is 20 per cent higher than in urban centers. MoS for Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeITY) Rajeev Chandrashekar, claimed at the second edition of the India Internet Governance Forum (IIGF) in December last year that India now has more than 800 million internet users making it the largest connected nation in the world.
Digital India Campaign
The government's Digital India initiative aims to provide citizens access to digital infrastructure and services and increase digital literacy. In 2023, the government launched a Digital Literacy Program aimed at making at least one member of every household in India digitally literate.
The program covers 6 crore households, offering digital literacy training through a network of training partners nationwide. The training includes theoretical and practical aspects of digital literacy, covering computer basics, internet browsing, email, social media, and online safety and security.
National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM)
The government's National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) has also been instrumental in promoting digital literacy in India. Under the mission, the government aims to train at least one person from every family in India in digital literacy. The program covers various topics such as computer basics, internet browsing, email, and online safety and security. The program is implemented through a network of training partners nationwide, including NGOs, government agencies, and private companies.
Despite these efforts, there are several challenges that need to be addressed to promote digital literacy in India.
Lack of Access to Digital Infrastructure
One of the major challenges is the lack of access to digital infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. According to data from 2023, only 34% of rural households have access to the Internet, compared to 70% of urban households. This digital divide is a major barrier to digital literacy, as many people in rural areas cannot access digital services or receive digital literacy training.
Lack of Awareness & Interest in Digital Technology
Another challenge is the lack of awareness and interest in digital technology among certain sections of the population, particularly older adults and women. According to data from 2023, only 29% of women in India are digitally literate, compared to 59% of men. Similarly, only 30% of adults over the age of 50 are digitally literate, compared to 60% of adults aged 18-29. This highlights the need for targeted efforts to promote digital literacy among these groups.
Lack of Emphasis on Digital Literacy in Education
Furthermore, there is a need for greater emphasis on digital literacy in the education system. Despite the growing importance of digital skills in the job market, many schools and colleges in India do not offer adequate training in digital literacy. This results in a lack of digital skills among young people, which can hinder their employment prospects in the future.
Increased Internet Penetration
Despite these challenges, there have been some encouraging developments in digital literacy in India. For example, the number of Internet users in India has increased from 481 million in 2019 to 743 million in 2023, according to Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) data. This growth has been fueled by the increasing availability of affordable smartphones and mobile data plans. In addition, there has been a surge in digital adoption during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people have had to rely on digital services for work, education, and entertainment. This has led to a greater awareness of the importance of digital literacy and has created new opportunities for digital skills training.
The Way Forward
To address the challenges in promoting digital literacy in India, there is a need for:
Greater investment in digital infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, to bridge the digital divide
Targeted efforts to promote digital literacy among underrepresented groups, such as women and older adults
Integration of digital literacy training into the education system
Collaborative efforts between the government, private sector, and civil society to promote digital literacy
Continued emphasis on digital skills training to keep pace with the rapidly evolving digital landscape.