Dealing with the Digital Divide


Russel Bernadina
Telecoms Specialist


When I left for Holland as a student in 1959 it took me 2 weeks to get a response from my parents that everything was ok with me and that the trip itself was quite an experience. On my next trip to Holland, it will take me less than 3 seconds, the post-dialing time, to tell my family that the trip was ok.

Technology enabled us to participate with millions of others when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon. Technology made it possible for us to hear the sober voice of Swigert telling the space center: “Houston, we have a problem”, when Apollo 13 encountered major problems on its trip to the moon when a fuel tank exploded. There are numerous examples which, nowadays, we take for granted, without realizing that all these are possible because of the rapid improvement of technology.

This brief introduction just served my purpose to state that two very important issues in our lives are time and information. In fact we live in a very stressed environment, whereby we are forced to follow the trends dictated by the global community.

My question is: “has technology really improved our quality of life?” Globalization is forcing us to implement drastic changes to stay in sync with developments world-wide. If we want to be successful in following the trends created by the leaders we have to analyze and define where we stand, map out our shortcomings and decide which steps to take in a pre-defined direction to become at least one of the best followers. quick scan of the existing situation on our island revealed the fact that two of the most important issues dealing with an eventual improvement of the quality of life rely on healthcare and education. The community should experience the benefits of these technological changes on a short term as these are the most pressing and acute problems of our community. Healthcare itself requires an ample study and analysis and is far better off if left in the hands of experts in this field. I am a firm believer that education is the only means to form the basis for a rapid development of improving life through technology. After all, only after a thorough education and training will we have the capability to implement the advantages technology offers optimally. Unfortunately we have to deal in our community with a big social gap which creates the digital divide. In concreto, synchronization of the educational levels is at this point in time not possible.

From the above we must conclude that although the technology is available the digital divide creates a barrier so that only a happy few can benefit from the technology to improve their quality of life. The problem is not simply the availability of the means to enhance the quality of life, but is more a matter of the mindset that has to be changed.

It is a well-known fact that all actions create a counter-action and that the change of an established mindset will without any doubt create a big turmoil, which if not properly managed and controlled will be counterproductive. These changes and rejection of such an action will in the long run create a very delicate situation. The social gap and the digital divide will only increase.

To be really successful I am convinced that the following aspects must be considered when bridging the digital divide:

  1. All teachers and instructors dealing with children of our community must be made aware of the digital possibilities and be instructed on how to optimally use the tools available to bridge the gap. This implies that they must recognize the need for a change in mindset that will lead to the successful implementation of technology to improve our quality of life.
  2. All schools and centers where the community gathers, the socalled “centro di bario”, must be equipped with necessary technological facilities and computers to enable the visitors to get used to the idea that technology forms an integral part of our modern life.
  3. It is imperative that all schools and “centro di barios” have access to broadband internet to enable the users to get all information swiftly.
  4. Special courses and lectures must be held in the “centro di bario”, so that older persons gain the opportunity to become acquainted with modern technology and the use of computers in their own environment. Under this condition the professors can stress also the fact that a change in approach and mindset is a conditio sine qua non to keep up with all the developments taking place.

I am convinced that the abovementioned steps will enable the community to understand why the world has gone digital and that we are forced to follow the trends that have been set.

You do agree with me that by implementing the digital technique life has become easier? Well I have news for you: What about the mechanic who used to repair cars in his backyard? Can he accept that the modern cars have to be scanned to determine the source of malfunction? Suppose he accepts this fact, do you think he will be able to perform such a scan in a protected but more complex environment of a well-equipped garage? I don’t think so!

The same applies for those who could “repair” TV-sets, radios, washing machines and refrigerators. Apart from their interest and eventual willingness to learn this, the basis for understanding digitization is not there. The question now is how must we deal with this problem? How can we eliminate this divide?

We can draw the immediate conclusion that a transition period must be introduced. A transition period however takes time and that is precisely what we do not have. To be successful in bridging this divide we will have to identify three types of problems that can be solved, respectively, in the short, middle and long term. The ultimate responsibility to construct this bridge lies with the government. However other stakeholders must also play an active role in dealing with the existing situation. A realistic policy must be put in place to solve the digital difficulties.

The stakeholders that have the obligation to participate in the construction of the bridge are:

  1. The business community;
  2. The authorities dealing with educational matters;
  3. The different unions and social groups;
  4. The telecom players.

The business community can contribute by providing the necessary tools (computers) at cost and by accepting trainees in their enterprises to learn the process of digitizing.

The authorities dealing with educational matters should make an inventory of what is needed at the schools and institutions they are responsible for. The unions and social groups have the obligation to stimulate their members to make this transition to guarantee their job security and the joy in their employment. It is imperative to convince their members that a change in mindset is vital.

The telecom players can contribute by supplying the schools, institutions and “centro di barios” with broadband internet connectivity free of charge or at affordable tariffs.

The coordination to make this turnaround successful, however, must be delegated to an organization which is dynamic and has knowledge of the changes that take place in the modern world. This institution must preferably be a non-profit organization, manned by professionals who have earned respect and recognition in the community. Can we create such an organization? I hope that with your assistance we can find a solution for this problem.