Visit the South African National Department of Health’s online resource and news portal for more information regarding COVID-19: www.sacoronavirus.co.za

How to bridge the digital literacy gap between cities and small towns

Africa is a continent with unequal societies across the socio-economic spectrum. The difference between the cities, suburbs, small towns, townships and rural areas is a glaring catastrophe. Particularly for the previously disadvantaged communities that remain at a disadvantage during an era of digital transformation. 

The digital literacy divide that exists in these communities is a huge hindrance to the continent’s success and future. Bridging the digital divide is one of the key solutions to mitigate the risks and ensure that the continent rebuilds to reach more balanced societies.

What is a digital literacy divide?

To understand the digital literacy divide, you first need to understand what digital literacy is. It refers to the ability to confidently use technology in a way that is beneficial to personal, business, and societal growth. It involves the awareness, critical thinking and technical skills to use digital technological tools. 

ALA’s Digital Literacy Task Force defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.”

The divide refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to digital technologies and those with zero or limited access in comparison. One of the main causes of the digital divide between rural and urban areas is the difference in socio-economic levels of these groups. For example, in most circumstances, the people living in the cities and suburbs are middle-class and working class. Meanwhile, the people living in townships and rural areas are typically a mix of working and lower class, meaning their access to socio-economic opportunities is different to those in the former income class. 

The digital divide in rural areas across the continent has a huge impact on the economy and how each country competes on the global market. 

Why is digital literacy important?

We live in an information era, where internet access is the foundational tool used to access key information and digital media necessary to navigate our daily lives. Understanding how to use the internet and other technologies is critical in helping people achieve their goals. 

The opportunities that come with digital literacy can change the narratives for the youth in previously disadvantaged communities. Through digital literacy, students can access academic materials, workers can access material to help improve their skills required to excel in the jobs they hold, and young entrepreneurs can identify and create products and services needed for a better society. In a broader spectrum, digital literacy helps all groups of people effectively source, share and store information. It also exposes people to innovation that is otherwise not possible. 

How do we bridge the literacy gap?

According to Internet World Stats, Africa’s internet penetration is 43 percent, which is the lowest compared with the rest of the continents across the globe. This report further reveals that the digital limitations are traced back to the lack of basic infrastructure. The research found “Mauritius to be the only country where over half of the adult population, 51 percent own a smartphone and a computer. Trailing closely behind is Morocco at 40 percent, Cabo Verde at 39 percent, Gabon at 37 percent and South Africa at 36 percent.” 

This indicates an infrastructure challenge that requires urgent solutions to ensure that Africa doesn’t remain isolated from the rest of the world. 

As the Development Bank of Southern Africa, it is our commitment to expand access to development finance and effectively integrate sustainable development solutions to improve the African economy and the lives of Africans. 

To close the gap, we focus on developing the infrastructure necessary to provide access to digital technologies in the continent’s most vulnerable communities within the sub-Saharan region. Thus far, we have successfully completed several ICT infrastructure projects, including Dark Fibre Africa, Teraco Data Environments and Bit Pesa. These projects are aimed at accelerating connectivity in Africa. 

Final thoughts

The advancement of digital technology has revealed a startling digital divide that exists in Africa. Not only does it impact poorer communities, but it also impacts the African economies and how they compete on the global market. It’s therefore critical to implement ICT infrastructure solutions that will mitigate and improve access to digital technologies for all communities in Africa.