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Digital Divide in Singapore 
- Beyond Ubiquitous Internet Access

by Atul Pant 



Below  are some  thoughts by Atul Pant on the Digital Divide in Singapore.  If you have further questions you may send them to the Center at icdri@icdri.org  

“Most of our policies for the Internet age are encouraging a situation in which only a small minority of people have, or are able to acquire, the ability to use the new media in ways that strengthen their chances of making choices about how to live their lives. E.g. choices about treatments for illness, about explorations of new skills and jobs, or about their searches for like minded people. In the case of those who are unable to use the new media networks (like the poor, elderly or the disabled) in this way, much human potential is being lost. Thus, new media should provide electronic spaces where people can acquire new abilities that can assist them in managing their daily lives.

These abilities are not simply acquiring skills to get on the net, or use the email or discussion list nor is it e-government or e-commerce or e-everything else. These abilities are more profound. As Professor Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate calls them “capabilities” - i.e. acquired cognitive capacities and the ability to discriminate between alternate choices. New media spaces should be developed in ways that augment people’s capabilities in this sense.

Public investment is required in creating information intermediaries that develop and make available the toolkits and other resources that enable citizens themselves to acquire capabilities to become critical, informed participants in democratic processes. This is essential so that people can create a society in the manner that they choose”.

From “New Media and Power of Networks” - Lecture by Prof Robin Mansell, LSE : Role of New Media in Society - `Capability Approach’


Digital Divide Matrix: What, Who, Why, Impact, Action

What is Digital Divide

It refers to the gap between those who can effectively use new information and communication tools (ICT), such as the Internet, and those who cannot.

Who are Digital Have-nots (from Singapore perspective)

· Low income group

· Senior Citizens

· Disabled

· Ethnic groups

Why Digital Divide

  •  Infrastructure: affordable and easy availability of computer hardware, software and access to Internet is the first prerequisite for bridging the digital divide
  •  Literacy and Learning: mere access to technology means very little unless all citizens are able to apply a wide set of literacy skills. Since ICT evolves at a stupendous rate it is imperative for people to evolve their skills continuously, thus becoming `lifelong learners’
  •  Content: If digital divide is to be solved, then steps need to be taken to ensure that all citizens are able to receive diverse content that is relevant to their lives. Content here means information and knowledge
  •  Universally Accessible Web Content: web content should be accessible to people with disabilities (visual, aural, motor and cognitive impairments) and elderly people. For this there is an urgent need to promote adoption of international accessibility standards while developing web content

Positive Impact of Bridging the Digital Divide

Digital Dividends in the form of:

 Enhanced quality of life for all citizens because an equitable and meaningful access to ICT, in today’s knowledge driven economic milieu, directly translates into easy acquisition of socio-economic capabilities

  • Digitally empowered, e-inclusive society that creates high economic value because of increased productivity of human resources, including of elderly and disabled population
  • Enhanced social bonding because of easy, quick and cost effective means of communication, over great distances, through Internet
  • Promote employability by acquiring skills for the new economy and facilitate independent living
  • Optimal utilization of human capital and least burden on public exchequer

Actions Needed to Bridge the Digital Divide (from Singapore perspective)


  • Need for legislative measures like USA’s Section 508 ( www.section508.gov ) of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that makes it mandatory for Federal agencies to provide equal access to information to all, including disabled and elderly. This legislation is proving to be quite effective in raising awareness about the issue of universal accessibility of web content - IT suppliers to the government, educational institutions and 'sensitised' corporates are now adopting standards to ensure that web content is easily available to the disabled and other least skilled users (like elderly). Such legislation has a positive spiral affect of making information (read knowledge) available to all.
  • Need to promote IT literacy: make available subsidized customized IT training that is in sync with the needs of the specific users. E.g. the elderly segment may require IT training that helps them pursue their hobbies or helps them interact with their children, grand children and friends. Only when they see ICT useful in their daily life will they be willing to adopt technology. Similarly, when the disabled people realize that they can use ICT to earn a living they will be keen on adopting IT.
  • Need to encourage Social Entrepreneurship: Social entrepreneurs are perhaps best suited to work in the area of bridging the digital divide and they will need encouragement - mentoring and availability of funds
  • Need to demonstrate the economic efficacy of being Digital literates: The government, through its various agencies that are in regular touch with the common man (like the CDCs) should provide employment opportunities (even part time employment) to the neo-IT literates. E.g. if a senior citizen takes IT training at a CDC IT Center then some form of temporary employment (say data entry) could be provided that has a monetary remuneration. Such a monetary reward will prove that acquiring IT competencies has a direct correlation with economic rewards and may encourage other seniors to become IT literates.
  • Need for easy and economic availability of Computers, Internet Access and Assistive Technology devices like screen readers, screen magnifiers, Braille displays etc.

Promotion / Campaign

  •  Forums like e-Celebrations should encourage measures that bridge the digital divide by sensitizing ICT players on issues like need for creating meaningful web content that is also disabled and elderly friendly
  •  Need to create focused online communities for the digital have-nots that serve as self-help, mutually empowering platforms of interaction
  •  Research into the needs and problems of the digital have-nots and why they are not able to adopt IT


  • Enabling the digital have-nots is not a very economically lucrative proposition. Hence, the government will have to play the role of a catalyst by encouraging the private sector, public sector and NGOs to come forward and help bridge the digital divide - by providing financial and fiscal incentives. Social entrepreneurs will need special attention
  • Case in point is www.DigitalDivide.org - "Financial Solutions to the Digital Divide" an Initiative for Financial Risk Sharing Linking Public and Private Sectors. DigitalDivide.org is an alliance between Harvard/MIT, Goldman Sachs and HP.


1. http://www.digitaldividenetwork.org/  - excellent resource on the macro issue of digital divide - lot of information, research papers and links on the issue of Digital Divide

2. http://www.digitaldivide.org/  - Policy Solutions for the Digital Divide

3. http://www.seniors.gov/       - US Government’s portal for Senior citizens

4. http://www.section508.gov/  - US government’s policy website for disabled



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