India's Growth Engine cannot accelerate sans Digital Literacy

DQI Bureau
New Update

Digital literacy stands in stark contrast to India's ICT prowess. On one hand, the country has gained significantly for its IT prowess, with IT and ITES sectors being a key contributor to India's GPD, on the other hand back home there is a widening digital disparity, with more than 85 % of the population in digital poverty.


The IT industry, strongly believes that it is important for the Government & the ecosystem to come together & address - Access, Applicability & Affordability concurrently to reach the benefit of ICT to all.

Towards this the IT industry had come together in 2012 to start ‘The National Digital Literacy Mission'. Lead by NASSCOM and Intel, this mission today has trained over 3 million people in less than 2 years, apart from creating state-of-the-art localized content and establishing various scalable delivery models. Dataquest sheds light on the digital literacy scene in India with datapoints and excerpts sourced from "The National Digital Literacy Mission", a joint initiative by NASSCOM and Intel.

Digital Literacy Scenario

According to the National Literacy Mission, digital reach in India has crossed the tipping point of 100 million users in 2011. There are more than 38 million users in rural India who have accessed internet at least once in their lives, which contributes to around 4.6% of the rural population. Although this is an encouraging growth, a gap still exists in integrating and penetrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) considering the huge rural population of about 833 million.


World Bank's 2009 report stated that 10% increase in computer and broadband penetration increases GDP by 1.38%. McKinsey's 2012 India Internet report too stated that India has the potential to double its economic contribution from the internet in the next 3 years, from 1.6% of GDP at present to 2.8% - 3.3% by 2015.

A deeper analysis of the last decade of the various BRIC countries indicate that India has significantly lagged behind in reaping the benefit of ICT adoption for national competitiveness. MAIT-KPMG'2013 report found that India has a PC penetration of 10% compared to over 45% in Brazil, Russia and 35% in China. India has been slow in reaping the benefit of ICT for national competitiveness.

It is estimated that, out of the total employable population of 280 million by 2020, over 168 million would be from the villages. ICT can truly help bridge the Urban, Rural divide. Hence there is an urgent need to accelerate Broadband and PC penetration in these pockets to provide quality education, skill development, employability and opportunities to masses.


Digital literacy, also increases women's sense of empowerment and studies have found that, more than 70 percent of women Internet users considered the Internet "liberating" and 85 percent said it "provides more freedom and empowerment to women.

The entire agriculture industry would also need significant liberalization with greater degree of micro-financing, extensive corporate-farmer commerce, Intra-rural and rural-urban commercial trade to be enabled. ICT offers the most cost effective means to achieve some of these goals.

While various governments have aspired to accelerate citizen series through e-governance, however the pace of the same have been tardy. Enabling citizens with digital skills, can be the most sustainable way of accelerating governance.


Addressing the divide

The report further points that while it is well known fact that Technology can create lasting impact on some of the pressing areas like - Healthcare, Education, Employability, Women empowerment and rural empowerment, various aspects of

ICT adoption have to be addressed simultaneously to bring about lasting impact in the community. Some of the aspects that require attention are as below.



Addressing Connectivity

Augmenting the right devices for the right usage


Accelerating Digital literacy - driving ICT usage awareness and capability among citizens

Accelerate the Services which can be made available remove impediments to acceptability

Focus on building locally relevant content & services in local languages


Lower cost of usage for Broadband especially in rural India - Tax benefits

Lower of devices - lower duties & taxes on device in hinterlands

Encourage Usage



Governments Initiatives to address Digital Divide

National Policy on Information Technology 2012 which aims to leverage Information & Communication Technology (ICT) to address the country's economic and developmental challenges, is rooted in the conviction that ICT has the power to transform the lives of people. The policy clearly insists on two imperatives to accelerate ICT for development. a) 100% digital literacy across India by 2020; b) connecting all the 2, 50,000 Gram Panchayats in the country.


The IT for Masses Program is currently in the formative stages, with an aspiration to reach 1 million people in 2014 on a pilot scale. The plan is to further scale the initiative over the next 5 years to reach every family by 2020.

Whereas, National Optical Fiber Network is a project for connecting 2, 50,000 Gram Panchayats (GPs) through Optical Fiber Cable (OFC) and has been approved by the Government of India on the 25th September 2011. If completed, it will have the capacity to provide a 100 Mbps link to each Gram Panchayat with the idea of bridging the gap between GPs and Blocks.

However the National Fiber Optic Network, program has been severely behind schedule. Both the above initiatives have to be rolled out faster and scale rapidly to truly reach the benefit of ICT to the masses.

A strong PPP (public-private partnership) model that best embraces the progress the Industry has made to augment the government vision is best recommended. The IT industry, under the leadership of NASSCOM and actively supported by Intel, have been keenly working with the ecosystem to accelerate Digital Literacy as part of ‘National Digital Literacy Mission'.

‘National Digital Literacy Mission' - An Industry initiative.

Since its inception in 2012, the National Digital Literacy Mission claims to have trained over 3.1 miilion people in digital literacy. The mission has also got support from leading IT companies who partnered with the initiative. The partners supporting the mission include - Dell, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft, Google, NASSCOM Foundation, DEF, and NIIT, among others.

Follow the Fiber Program : As part of the program, Intel adopted the 3 villages where the NOFN (National Optical Fibre Network) program was executed by the Government. Intel started their intervention to drive 100% digital literacy in these 3 villages in October'2012 and in less than a year, Intel trained 1800 people using Intel Easy Steps program at the computer labs set up in these villages and announced the conclusion of the program in September 2013.

This work has produced immense learning out of this experience. This program was later studied by ‘Open Knowledge Community' that called out several instances, where increased digital literacy led to improvement in the society across four broad areas of education, empowerment, entrepreneurship and employability.

National Digital Literacy Week : To leverage the volunteering among the workforce engaged in the IT ecosystem, Intel and NASSCOM, also organized two, ‘National Digital Literacy Weeks' in December'2012 and in December'2013. As a result, over 1300 employees of 20+ organizations participated in these interventions and trained over 40,000 people across 11 cities.

NDLM execution in States : In different states the Mission is being carried out through different initiatives. In Gujarat, the Student Internet World is expected to touch over 300,000 students, whereas another program Krishi Mahotsave has reached over 70,000 farmers. In Kerala, 3 million women would be rained in three years under Kudumbashree program. Likewise, states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are running digital literacy drives through multiple programs.


Scaling the National Digital Literacy Mission

While the program is taking strides through several initiatives, it has to go a long way. The government and the Industry should come together to build a strong PPP to address the challenge. Some of the aspects that need to be addressed are as below -

1.Launch a National Campaign to make India 100% Digitally Literate: Accelerating Digital Literacy should be called out as a Mission Mode Project. Government should also earmark a week during the year as the ‘National Digital Literacy Week' and create mechanisms so that individuals and institutions can volunteer their time and efforts to solve the challenge of Digital literacy, akin the Pulse Polio campaign. Driven form the PMs Office this program should be well popularized on various mediums like web, radio and print media.

2.Engage the Industry on a strong PPP model: The industry today has trained over 3 million people. The government should best leverage such organizational learnings of the industry. The Governments campaign should be built as a PPP model that lets the Industry engage deeply to advise on program elements.

3.Portal for driving Digital Literacy: The Government has to invest in building a robust portal as a pivot to run this scheme. The portal would not only allow content to be hosted and distributed, it should also help scale the initiative. Further this could become a de'facto platform for the Government to connect to masses.

4.Driving usage & impact: The Government should accelerate key projects like the NOFN project & other e-Governance initiatives. The Government should also encourage ICT adoption by incentives and policies that encourage Citizens and partners to drive adoption in rural India. A study of how ICT has helped various stakeholders in rural India should be collated and best integrated with the campaign to drive mass ICT usage.