Addressing the digital divide

A question put forth on the monthly meet-the-press was regarding an earlier plan under the MoIC initiated by the government in 2010 called the ‘Hole in the Wall’ or also referred to as ‘Play and Learn’ and its condition.

The program was aimed towards the rural area’s youth for basic IT familiarisation and exposure, which then was reportedly a tougher task for the government of the time since IT was still at a nascent stage in Bhutan despite the good intent, said the MoIC minister Lyonpo Karma Donner Wangdi.

“Another project was ‘Chiphen Rigphel’ which was for government sectors and the rural people. These were good initiatives and likely so, the previous government might have had similar plans like ours to move forward. Since then ICT has gained momentum after almost a decade. Realising the speed that the ICT travelled at and the development happening in IT sectors, we are aware that economic and social development require ICT to enable it”, he added.

He also said that with the results of the previous efforts to kick start IT familiarisation helps the Digital Drukyul Flagship to attain its main objective to have all the already developed infrastructure so far to be network-integrated.

“Previously different ministries had individual systems designed to meet their local needs, thus turning out to be very expensive in terms of manpower and infrastructure” MoIC minister declared.

Following that he emphasised on data and information being two different components highlighting that, while information is vital, data remains like coal which if there is too much data and cannot be sorted out, it becomes hard to identify, therefore there lies a need of an integrated system to make sense of the data- which leads to efficient and faster decision making process.

Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said, “Yes there is gap between rural and urban ICT competency level despite the good initiative of ‘hole in the wall’ project. Back then the equipments were under the gewog custody and they were locked up making it hard to access for the youth. Few Dzongkhags now have shifted the machines to schools so that the children can play around and learn.”

“The digital gap between urban and rural area is because of inaccessible facilities, as rural parents, especially back in the day did not have the capacity to provide the amenities of smartphones and computers for familiarisation. These days some rural schools are utilising the facilities well,” added Lyonpo.

He said machine language is 21st century literacy and so the government wants to make sure everyone is equipped with the skill. Investments are primarily in schools, specifically starting from rural areas, thinking in line with the vision of narrowing the gap.

Lyonchhoen added, “the concern is not on basic IT and exposure now as times have changed from the days of the ‘Hole in the wall’ project, the responsibility to take ICT literacy further lies crucially with the baseline users and digital literacy which looking at 20 years down the line will mean that all Bhutanese will be IT literate. With everything digitalised, these initiations will generate skilled workforce within the country and we will not have to resort to hiring experts from outside”.

Many packages, including GST, ePIS which were almost outsourced have now been pulled back towards the DHI IT wing which is has not been established yet, but with a condition from the government to DHI to build its infrastructure and manpower of about few hundred IT experts and to develop the softwares in Bhutan itself, according to the PM.

This he hopes will not only be a backbone of Bhutan IT, but will also be a specialised IT vendor in the region.

“Coordinated actions will take place so that packages will not fall apart and no isolation will exist unlike the hole in the wall project- it will be perpetual” said PM with an expression of excitement.

The Lyonchhoen concluded the session by saying that his concern for digital divide mostly lies in the case of parents and children, as the children will take over with rise in digital literacy.

Therefore, he feels that children learning along with parents is the way to go and despite the social repudiation, making smartphones accessible to children is a good thing, provided that the parents ensure responsible learning and monitoring, the children during isolated time with the smartphones.

“Access is important, then comes the affordability of gadgets- which we are also looking at along with affordable data as it will increase information access for a wholesome ICT experience, then we feel that the circle will be completed” he added.

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