Digital Literacy Program in Dagana before COVID-19 struck in March 2020

Dagana Dzongkhag hopeful for smooth digital transition

Connectivity still an issue

Bhutan which was gradually moving into a new phase of Information and Technology (IT) had to adapt to an unprecedented scenario due to the pandemic.

With physical communication limited to telecommunication or the internet, avenues were many but not everyone was brought up in the age of technology and those who knew little had to make do with what they knew- in some parts of the country.

Dagana Dzongkhag is among those Dzongkhags where internet connectivity and resource availability is still a prevailing issue when it comes to a path forward in the field of ICT.

As per the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) 2017, the statistics showed that out of the 24,965 people residing in the Dzongkhag then, there were only about 179 Telephone connections, 1 internet lease line connection, no broadband connection and about 4 cable operators.

With digitization being focused in all over Bhutan, efforts are being made but the transition to technology is not an overnight task. The local leaders and people are hopeful that the change in times will help bolster the ICT side of things as well. 

In the PHCB 2017 report, Dagana’s unemployment rate is as good as they come at 0.1 %, however as per a study conducted in 2015, 70.24 % of the population was involved in agriculture. The local leaders and community professionals said that due to better facilities and quick information available nowadays, they are hopeful for the future generations.

 Prior to COVID-19 as part of the Digital Drukyul Flagship Program, the Dagana Dzongkhag Administration in collaboration with Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) had planned to conduct Digital Literacy Program throughout the Dzongkhag, however as per the lead facilitator Karma Denkar, ICT Officer, Dagana Dzongkhag Administration they were able to cover around 11 gewogs out of the 14 gewogs, before the pandemic restrictions were in place.

 Karma said, “Dagana Dzongkhag ICT Sector has been trying hard to enhance the digital skills of the citizen for ICT adoption and foster a digital literate society.”

She added, “The current technological trend here in Dagana in terms of business is far better compared to past times, most business entities and citizens use mbob, mpay, epay and other banking apps.”

 She said that in the current times one can hardly see cash as most of the payments or fund transfers are being done online, especially during the phase of pandemic.

During the Digital Literacy program which started around late January of 2020 the Dzongkhag ICT Sector had reportedly conducted one-day Digital Literacy Program to various categories of citizens which included the elderly, illiterate, literate, youth and businessmen in the gewogs.

The program was conducted in order to create awareness on various utility services that the general population could avail with the use of technology.

The overall objective of these sessions were to enhance digital skills of citizens for ICT adoption, fostering digital literate society and creating awareness on education services, job portals, business services, passport services, online payments, BOLTs, RSTA services, G2C Mobile Apps and non-G2C and other utility apps like online bus ticketing, mbob, mpay.

The program also aimed to familiarize people of different educational sections on the user interfaces of some commonly used communication tools like Gmail, Telegram, WeChat, WhatsApp, Messenger, etc.

 The ICT Officer reported that all the schools ranging from lower to central schools had IT labs with some of the faculties and principals being identified to be Tech-savvy and inspirational.

As per their analysis, most of the 24 schools in the Dzongkhag are facing challenges in regard to connectivity as the internet bandwidth had some issues. Reportedly networking devices have been placed in most of the schools but the installations are halted due to the pandemic.

She added that under the Digital Drukyul Flagship programme, DITT is initiating Government internet (GovNet) connection to government offices like health centers, schools, RNR Centers, community service centers and regional government offices.

GovNet connectivity to government offices means extension of government internet line to government offices via optic fibres.

She said that the current internet connectivity in the schools and government offices at gewogs are all independent leased lines provided by internet service providers (ISP).

They are hopeful that the bandwidth issue would come to pass once the GovNet project is completed.

She added that the Ministry of Education is looking forward to furnish the IT labs right from the primary school levels.

 As per the Dzongkhag ICT team’s interaction with people, they stated that some of the elderly people were quite curious and dazed to know as to how things like transferring money without using cash was possible. Some of the elderly people of the society had also sparred words of envy and acknowledgement to have been born in a convenient time, while some others who were more accustomed to traditional working methods felt reluctant with the transitions that were happening.

Reportedly some of these people thought that it would be an extra burden to be learning new things at their age, like learning how to process things online when they have been doing things manually for most of their working days.

 The Dzongkhag ICT team stated that the awareness and the usage of IT services had inclined with the COVID-19 fuss and people have been keeping in touch through social media sites.

Tshechus and other important programs in the Dratshang were telecasted live and the public were able to watch it on their smartphones and other devices.

Further down the line, the Dzongkhag Administration hopes to train more youth within the community to enhance and build acceptance towards digital transition within the communities.

One of the cons as stated by many of the citizens residing there was in regard to the high data rates and that not everybody could utilize the technologies efficiently.

The team wishes to carry forward these activities and awareness programs through various other channels like schools and individual households to make it more conceivable in the coming years.

 This story was made possible with the support from DoIM, MoIC.

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