There are many studies and research that are being carried out to determine the footprint that the pandemic has generated in our society in terms of poverty, exclusion and inequality. It is about knowing the consequences unleashed on the living conditions of the population that, more harshly, has suffered these hard months, knowing how it has affected the lives of individuals and families, avoiding that there are sectors that remain excluded, marginalized and removed from the long-awaited economic and social recovery.
Among the many data that researchers and study centers handle, one element stands out strongly in this pandemic that has played a key role on the most vulnerable population in their access to aid and social devices, and even for its fundamental role for social inclusion and the education of sectors as important as children and adolescents (NNA). We refer to the deep digital divide which is opening up in many households and groups of people, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, rapidly becoming a major added factor of exclusion.
The digital divide refers to the growing difficulties that certain social groups have in accessing, using and employing new information and communication technologies, especially with regard to digital equipment through the Internet and social networks. It is true that the concept of digital illiteracy is also used to explain the little or no knowledge and skills that certain sectors of the population have to use computers and computer systems, as well as their access to the internet, although both terms are different. The digital divide speaks to us of a space of increasingly marked and profound inequality, while digital illiteracy refers to the lack of knowledge and skills. While the digital divide is a social process, digital illiteracy refers to personal skills.
It is true that this digital divide has been taking shape in recent years with the same speed with which technologies advanced in our society. But since the pandemic broke out, home confinements have been extended, movement restrictions have become generalized and institutions have tried to maintain their activity remotely by telematic means, a process has been accelerated that has further excluded vulnerable people who, due to their situation , they needed much more support and help. Thus, many poor families, without means or computer equipment, could not access benefits such as the Minimum Living Income, process the regional insertion income or other aid they needed to get ahead. They were also unable to communicate with public institutions, access job interviews or have basic information essential to their life and work remotely. But also many minors, who received online classes, had difficulties to follow them properly, despite the enormous effort made by schools, teachers and administrations.
The situations of poverty and suffering that were experienced in many homes, when seeing with anguish how the essential resources for daily sustenance disappeared, increased when verifying the impossibility of requesting essential services and aids that they needed, which could only be accessed by computers with internet connection. In this way, to social exclusion was added a digital exclusion that distanced them from the physical world, increasing, even more, a vulnerability full of uncertainties in the face of a future that is increasingly difficult for them to join.
In the case of minors, along with the inequality in the equipment to have computers or modern digital tablets with which to carry out their educational tasks, there is also the inequality in use and the lack of adequate access to the Internet. Different indicators highlight the existence of profound differences depending on the household income of these children and adolescents that translate into future educational, social and work limitations.
It is true that the pandemic has notably accelerated the digitization of homes, the renewal of computer equipment and the use of programs and services on the Internet. If we look at the survey of the National Institute of Statistics (INE) on “Equipment and use of ICT in homes”, we can clearly see the leap that has taken place throughout society and in all autonomous communities in the use of these technologies due to the pandemic. Thus, people from 16 to 74 years old who have used the internet in the last three months in Spain went from 86.1% in 2018 to 93.2% in 2020, similar data for the Valencian Community, where it went from 86, 3% to 93.1% in the same years. But these figures from the INE also endorse this growing digital divide, to the extent that, in 2020, while 96.2% of households with incomes above 2,500 euros per month had fixed broadband access, for those households that entered less than 900 euros, the percentage of fixed access was reduced notably, up to 62.7%.
Progress towards an increasingly digitized society thus deepens the processes of exclusion in vulnerable households, a very important variable that must be taken into account when designing social intervention programs.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.