The poorest in our society are the most affected class by covid 19 pandemic with minimum and no access to modern digital technologies including telephone, internet, television, and computers.
The digital divide refers and reflects this existing gap and inequalities emphasizing the importance of bridging the digital divide by providing digital infrastructures, services, and applications with an all-inclusive approach and empowering unprivileged individuals and societies to effectively utilize the information and communication technologies. It is feared that expanding digital technology can heighten digital inequalities with disinformation, harassment, and abuse, especially to women and children.
For combating the covid pandemic with sustainable growth, the UN President of the General Assembly recently convened a virtual one-day High-level Thematic Debate on Digital Cooperation and Connectivity on Tuesday, 27 April 2021, in the UN’s General Assembly Hall headquartered in the USA. The meeting was headed by the UN general assembly president Volkan Bozkir and aired online with some international speakers delivering speeches.
Singapore Minister of communications and Information, Mr. Iswaran participated in this high-level thematic debate and noted that though covid 19 has speeded up the digital transformation drive through the world, it has also increased the danger of inequalities between “the digital haves and have-nots”.
As per Roland Berger’s Digital Inclusion index 2020, Singapore ranked first among 82 countries across the world and Mr. Iswaran highlighted the need for an “inclusive, innovative, and interoperable,” digital future and expressed Singapore’s willingness to work in unison with other member states of the UN.
The one-day thematic debate stressed the immediate need for political commitment at the highest levels to address the digital divide in the current Covid-19 situation. The debate was held in response to requests made by the member states and was represented by private and civil society sectors including participants from more than 60 countries.
“To ensure that digital transformation efforts are inclusive, countries around the world must recognize the diverse circumstances faced by nations”, Mr. Iswaran deliberated in his speech.
He also emphasized that the measures taken by different countries and the experiences gained can be shared on UN platforms such as Internet Governance Forum for a strong and focused approach on digital inclusion.
“The platform brings together various stakeholders from the private and public sectors to discuss public policy issues relating to the Internet. The UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which was released in June last year, is also a good start,” said Mr. Iswaran.
The UN has come up with a road map for bridging the digital divide that includes achieving universal connectivity by 2030, creating a more equitable world by promoting digital public goods, digital inclusion for all including the most vulnerable sections, strong digital capacity building, protection of human rights, global cooperation on AI, improving digital security, and lastly, a strong and effective architecture for digital cooperation.
“Singapore has a Digital Readiness Blueprint that could serve as a useful reference for other countries in fostering digital inclusion”, Mr. Iswaran pointed out.
The Singapore digital readiness blueprint acts as a guide to equip all segments of society including children in lower-income households, senior citizens, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises with digital skills and access.
“Countries must also be innovative in their efforts to end the digital divide”, emphasized Mr. Iswaran.
“The accelerated pace of digital transformation has created opportunities but is also profoundly disruptive to some, and requires complex trade-offs,” Mr. Iswaran narrated.
“In Singapore, the Digital for Life movement that was launched in February will encourage ground-up projects that bridge the digital divide”, he emphasized. As per him, the move shall provide resources to enhance basic computer skills.
Singapore treats the ‘Bridge the Digital Divide’ initiative as corporate social responsibility and advocates a new company set up in Singapore upon the policy of partnerships and collaboration with non-profit organizations and individuals working together for this cause.
The Minister also highlighted the importance of an interoperable digital framework for a brighter global digital environment that would help individuals and businesses gain access to global opportunities.
“In Asian, initiatives like the ASEAN Data Management Framework will help to facilitate the flow of data across borders to unlock new business opportunities, especially for SMEs”, Mr. Iswaran remarked.