Impact of Digital Inequality on Health and Education – UPSC GS3

Facts on Digital inequality in India
  • Inequality in access to digital devices: According to National Sample Survey (2017), only 6% of rural households and 25% of urban households have a computer.
  • Inequality in access to Internet Services: Only 17% in rural areas and 42% in urban areas have access to internet.
Due to the prevailing inequality in digital access, the digital solutions offered for providing basic services such as health and education have failed.
Inequality in education:
  • Lack of access to online classes: According to the Azim Premji Foundation, ASER and Oxfam report, between 27% and 60% could not access online classes, due to lack of devices, shared devices, inability to buy “data packs”, etc.
  • Loss of Lives: a college student studying in Delhi and a 16-year-old in Goa committed suicide as their family could not afford to repair the phone they used.
  • Lack of learning environment at home: a quiet space to study is a luxury for many. For instance, 25% of Indians lived in single-room dwellings in 2017-19. Further, girls at home are burdened with domestic chores.
  • Advantages in Peer learning is forgiven: Students with issues in English language found easy to pick up the language with the help of peers. Now, online education has deprived them this advantage.
Reason for Inequality in health:
  • Very low public spending: Very low public spending on health (nearly 1% of GDP) has contributed to the high share of ‘out of pocket’ (OOP) health expenditure in India was over 60% in 2018. Even in the United States, where health system is highly privatised, OOP was merely 10%.
  • Poor Regulation: Private health sector in India is poorly regulated. As a result, they charge exorbitant prices and has contributed towards the development of black market for scarce services
  • Shortages: Shortage of essentials such as drugs, hospital beds, oxygen, vaccines etc.
Inequality in accessing digital healthcare:
To overcome the above challenges, the government chose to promote Digital health services as a solution. However, digital health services have resulted in unequal access to health care due to the following reason.
  • Technological Challenges: People with knowledge of technology are at advantage to access digital health services compared to the vulnerable populations without digital knowledge. For example, in the case of CoWIN, it is much harder for people without phones, computers, and the Internet to book slots.
  • Language barrier: The website is only available in English restricting the use for the mass non-English population.
  • Privacy violation: For example, the push towards digital health ID databases may result in health records being used by private entities without our consent.
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