Download Screen Reader

E-provisioning: A pathway to equality

Date: 2 August, 2023

Writer : Dr Zulkarin Jahangir & Khandakar Iffah
Source : TBS Nnews

Reading Time: 8 Minutes

2 August, 2023
Writer : Dr Zulkarin Jahangir & Khandakar Iffah
Source : TBS Nnews
· Reading Time: 8 Minutes

E-provisioning: A pathway to equality

E-provisioning: A pathway to equality

E-provisioning, meaning the delivery of government services in the digital space, can help us ensure meaningful, high-quality digital experience for all.

Development in its truest form is about enhancing the capabilities of people to avail a healthy and meaningful life more than anything else. It is about expanding the set of opportunities available for individuals in every sphere of life and empowering them to become active agents of progress. Because of this people-centric nature, development demands to be inclusive and protective of human rights.

Ensuring the quality and equitability of development is just as crucial as ensuring its quantity. Equality is important beyond its moral standpoint, as development without equality will be unbalanced and unsustainable. We have entered a new era of digitalisation where inequality also has taken a new form: the digital divide.

There can be no doubt that digital technologies have progressed globally and are transforming societies in all aspects ranging across connectivity, financial inclusion, public services, health, education, trade and commerce, media communication, and transportation. In a world where so many essential activities depend on technology, access to digitalisation becomes a key determinant of whether individuals are able to reap the benefits of development. Such disparity can potentially place the already vulnerable demographics in a more precarious position.

As an example, we can think of the existing gender-based digital divide, which is quite prevalent throughout our country. It prevents women from taking full advantage of the digital revolution compared to their male counterparts. In our research we have observed the benefits of digitalisation and how significantly it impacts the lives of our citizens with stories from the marginalised communities.

However, we also saw that inequality still persists in terms of digitalisation. In this op-ed, we will emphasise on the importance of inclusivity as well as the expansion of digital services.

In this context, we are emphasising on the concept of e-provisioning, i.e.: the delivery of government services in the digital space to mitigate inequality. At this day and age, mere digitalisation efforts are not enough. We must look at the process of equitable access to digital development analytically and practically.

E-provisioning must work towards ensuring e-Quality. The term e-Quality is coined to refer to a “meaningful, high-quality digital experience”.

It is critical to note that “e” or “digital” does not always mean the internet. It may include any relevant technology such as feature phones, contact centres, television, and radio that might be useful for a particular community. Proper e-provisioning will ensure that quality digital services will be delivered to the target communities. Bangladesh has made significant progress in expanding the quantity of digital services.

The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education and the Ministry of Education, with technical support from a2i – the Bangladesh Government’s flagship digital transformation program supported by UNDP – have established Multimedia Classrooms in over 110,000 schools. The government reduced the price of international internet bandwidth by over 90% over the past 12 years, making internet affordable to the marginalised.

To understand the idea of e-provisioning, we need to explore its multi-dimensionality in terms of both opportunities and outcomes. When it comes to digital access, we see a stark disparity among various socio-economic groups, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, the elderly, among regions, and along the rural-urban divide. Access to appropriate devices and enough data and speed of internet will enable them to have this regular access on the internet, which is an essential step toward digital inclusion.

However, having proper devices and internet connectivity will be ineffective without quality services available online and digital literacy. E-provisioning in this regard will ensure that quality services are available online and that citizens possess digital literacy through their schooling and/or external training.

There are numerous digital services offered by the government but still, there is a gap between the provider and receiver due to a lack of proper access and availability of services. A problem of information asymmetry arises in digital spaces if citizens are not clearly made aware of the services provided by the agents.

If a citizen is unaware of the National Services Access Helpline ‘333’, they will not be able to inform their grievance and get a solution to their problem. Here we see the importance of assessing whether the information is available and visible on public websites, accessible by the population, kept up to date, and in user-friendly interfaces.

While the economy is being digitalised , it is imperative to simultaneously develop citizens’ digital savviness as getting the full benefits of digitalisation depends on how adept the citizens are at using it. Rural citizens face a double-fork problem where lack of access to both devices (e.g., mobile phones, computers) and networks is limited, which in turn restricts the acquisition of highly demanded skills of using digital technology.

E-provisioning of common devices in the form of union digital centres and expansion of quality networks in rural regions is thus crucial. The digitisation process also needs to be transparent with a strict accountability structure; otherwise, corruption and exploitation of the weak and marginalised may prevail and create a power asymmetry even in the digital sphere.

The emergence of Covid-19 has pushed forward a global digitalisation wave that has brought even basic needs such as health and education to online spaces. We have seen the effect of this rapid digitalisation in Bangladesh too, with medical or financial services being available at the tip of a person’s fingers if they have adequate connectivity and digital literacy.

The pandemic brought to the surface the stark digital divide that exists in a developing country like ours. While the advantaged students in urban areas attended schools adopting e-learning, the disadvantaged students in rural areas fell behind due to a lack of appropriate, affordable, and reliable digital infrastructure required to access online lessons during the pandemic.

To bridge this divide and build a resilient digital future, we need a more granular understanding that gives us clarity on the differences and inequality in Bangladesh. E-Quality does not only depend on access to digitalisation. It also ties in with inequalities in other sectors such as health, employment, and education. It is imperative to have a strong analytical framework that can capture these nuances.

An analytical framework linking e-provisioning with equality can assess the digital development and the access of poor and marginal people to the digital government services; identify the constraints to equitable access to it and their implications for equitable development. E-provisioning is the input to achieve the intermediate objective of digital inclusion or digital equality, which contributes to achieving the ultimate goal of overall equitable development.

Our strategy of reaching equality through e-provisioning is an analytical approach toward a clear understanding of inequality in a digital era. A granular framework measuring all the elements of digital inequality has never been developed in Bangladesh till date. Developing such an exploratory framework will unquestionably have an influence on policy making and stimulate policy debates across the nation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *