Computer literacy in India needs a reboot

Context: The recently released NSS 78th round of the Multiple Indicator Survey (conducted in 2020-21) is a household survey that highlighted low computer literacy in India.

Importance of computer literacy

  • Critical services: Banking, healthcare, and government services are increasingly digital.
  • Quality of life: Access and effective use of technology enhance individuals’ quality of life.
  • COVID-19 Impact: The pandemic underscored the importance of computer and internet access for everyday needs., from ordering groceries and online education to managing banking and health-care services.
  • Employment opportunities: Enhances employability and productivity, providing individuals with a competitive edge in the job market, reducing socio-economic inequalities.

Computer literacy in India: 

  • Computer literacy, defined as the ability to use a computer. Key findings of NSS 78th round of the Multiple Indicator Survey (conducted in 2020-21): 
    • Computer literacy among individuals aged 15 years and above stands at 24.7%. This marks an increase from 18.4% in 2017-18 to 24.7% in 2020-21. In rural areas, computer literacy increased from 11.1% to 18.1%, while in urban areas, it rose from 34.7% to 39.6%. Among those aged 20-24, the literacy rate is 45.9%, while it is 4.4% for the age group of 65-69 years.
    • The survey shows that computer literacy decreases with age, with younger people being more computer literate. This common trend highlights the gap in computer education between younger and older generations, known as a “cohort effect” or “generation effect.”
    • Significant differences in computer literacy rates, with Kerala at 72.7% and Assam at 17.6% for ages 20-39.

Reason for India’s modest progress: 

  • Lack of Infrastructure: Many schools and colleges across India do not have the necessary infrastructure.
  • Shortage of qualified teachers: Limits the quality and reach of computer literacy programs.
  • Gaps in education system: Although computer education is part of the school curriculum, there are disparities in access and instructional standards, particularly in rural and economically disadvantaged areas. E.g: Assam (17.6%), Bihar (20.4%), Madhya Pradesh (21%).
  • Limited access for older demographics: Older age groups often lack motivation or access to learning resources for computer literacy.
  • Unequal distribution of resources: There is a significant disparity in resource allocation for computer literacy initiatives, leading to unequal progress across different states and regions.

Government initiative to promote computer literacy: 

  • Digital India campaign 2015: To transform the country into a digitally empowered society.
  • Education integration: Computer education is being integrated into the formal education system from an early age.E.g: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)
  • Skill development: Various programs target underprivileged communities to bridge the digital divide. E.g: Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA).

Way forward: 

  • The government should allocate resources towards the training of computer personnel and ensure sufficient staffing levels. 
  • For the older population outside the formal education system, targeted programmes are essential through involving various institutions, including local governing bodies such as panchayats and non-governmental organisations, to effectively reach and empower older individuals with computer literacy skills. 
  • The government should also conduct a thorough review of such computer literacy and develop strategies to achieve higher literacy and reduce disparities in the coming years. 
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