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Alexander Nyarko Yeboah
There have always been talks about the digital divide and its effects on the less fortunate in society. Even though there have been efforts by governments to address the divide on the African continent, the breakout of the corona virus pandemic has brought to the fore the need to deepen such efforts and address the issue head-on since it is necessary for the fight against the spread of the corona virus and the promotion of our economy.
With COVID-19 comes the need to work and school from home which means huge dependence on information technology to access the outside world whilst one keeps safe from the virus. What this means it that, with technology, one could produce the same results one would have produced, especially in the service industry, if one is physically present in the working environment, and one could learn and access their tutors as much as when one physically sits in the classroom.
What this also means is that, without technology, one is restricted to the extent to which they could work from home, meaning that one had to risk everything to physically go to the working environment. In terms of education, the student is automatically cut off from their classroom and teachers because they neither possess the electronic gadgets to do so nor the internet connectivity to enhance the virtual learning process.
The result is that productivity slows down with many having to lose their jobs and possible livelihoods whilst some deprived children spend the whole day playing because they do not have the means to educate themselves under COVID-19 restrictions.
According to Ghana Statistical Service Press Release on the COVID-19 Households and Jobs Tracker Wave 1, 30.2% of respondents indicated that they had not worked in the previous seven days. The reports said, “Nationally, 77.4% of households reported that the total household income has reduced since March 16 and 3.1% reported an increase in income.”
Again, the report indicated that 35% of Junior High pupils and 28% of Senior High students “are not learning anything within the period whilst at home” with the most common educational programmeavailable to children being that which is broadcast on national television.
The report also informed that the main difficulty in the learning process for both basic and senior high students was “lack of access to basic tools like computers or phones.”
Yet, whilst these children are deprived of their right to education, their counterparts in the well-endowed schools are busily accessing their classrooms since both their parents and the sophisticated schools they attend could afford the technology that could bring both student and teacher together and learn virtually.
This situation is not only consistent with Ghana and could be worse in other countries on the African continent posing a lot of concern about the need to address the digital divide effectively. This is because the persistence of the divide means that the gap between the rich and poor would persistwhich would automatically transfer into other areas of life such as higher education, job placement, and a better life for today’s child.
The sad aspect is that, this acute divide between the rich and poor is happening right in the major cities and towns of the African continent, suggesting that one could not imagine what may be prevailing in the hinterlands where access to physical classrooms has sometimes been a problem.
COVID-19 should be a wakeup call to Africans as well as other developing economies to understand that the world needs the virtual classroom, workplace, ceremonies, etc. and therefore the need to make it part of our lives. Whether we like it or not, we need to embrace the virtual communities and begin to develop them alongside the physical communities as a way of ensuring that, in times of crisis or otherwise, we are ensuring productivity.
But this cannot happen when millions of our citizens are cut off from accessing information technology due to poverty and underdevelopment.
Many talents and potential human resource fallow because of lack of ability to bridge the digital divide. Today, there are a lot of people who may not understand the transformational power of the internet or have not allowed themselves to take advantage of it. What is so interesting is how even those with access to information technology hardly use it to advance their knowledge beyond just Facebooking or whatsupping, etc.
With access to technology and the internet, massive transformational agenda could be promoted in every sphere of life. Farmers could access up-to-date technology which would transform their activities on the farm, health workers could learn new and advanced means of health delivery, teachers could train children in very sophisticated ways and maximize the potentials of the student, among others.
COVID-19 is indeed a wakeup call to present and successive governments on the African continent to bridge the digital divide and ensure that access to information technology tools such as phones and the computer and reliable internet connectivity becomes a human right issue as a means of completing the total education of the African and putting their economy on the path to progress and development.