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Reading between the digital lines

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Monday, 11 December 2017 00:00

The Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) in its latest survey on IT literacy conducted during the first six months of 2017 has said that Sri Lanka’s rate is about 38%, which is largely in line with the developing country average. However, Sri Lanka still has much to do if it wants to use IT to tap into stronger economic growth and social empowerment. 

The computer literacy rate among those in the age group of 5-69 years has been estimated at 28.3%. The urban sector reported the highest computer literacy rate of 41.1% among residential sectors while computer literacy rates of the rural and estate sectors are 26.5% and 9.5% respectively.

According to the findings of the survey, computer literacy among males is 30.7% which is higher than that of females (26.1%). 

Comparing all age groups, those aged between 15 and 19 years reported the highest computer literacy rate of 60.7%. 

Among educational levels, the highest computer literacy rate 71.2% is reported for the segment with a level of education of G.C.E. (A/L) or above. The survey results further reveal that computer literacy is very high (71.1%) among those who are fluent in the English language.

Digital Literacy is a newly-introduced indicator for Sri Lanka and a person (aged 5-69) is considered to be a digitally literate person if he or she can use a computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone on his or her own.  At a national level digital literacy has been estimated at 38.7% and for males and females 42.5% and 35.2% respectively. Digital literacy for the urban sector is 54.5% while for the rural and estate sectors it is 36.4% and 16.4% respectively.

Across districts, the highest percentage (44.6%) of the population using the internet was reported from the Colombo District, while the Badulla District shows the lowest percentage of 4.9%. 

There is a noticeable discrepancy between urban and rural IT literacy rates.  While Sri Lanka has done a commendable job in providing 4G technology ahead of the rest of South Asia and at a lower price, more needs to be done to educate people about how the Internet can be used to build businesses, increase knowledge and connect to markets. Entrepreneurs in particular can use different platforms provided by IT to build businesses. The deep development divide between cities and rural areas is mirrored in the IT literacy numbers and this is a different kind of connectivity that the industry and Government need to concentrate on.  Another issue is the difference between male and female IT literacy levels. This, together with the comparatively low levels of financial literacy and other hurdles such as access to finance and mentoring, could be why the involvement of women in the formal workforce is so low in Sri Lanka. IT has changed the way the world works, particularly how the business world works and if different communities are not given the tools to tap into this evolving world then they, and the society they are part of, will be left behind.  Obviously the youngest and most educated segments of society polled the highest in IT literacy. 

This is the golden segment and developing the talent of younger people so that they can use IT in innovative ways is certainly the way forward.  Moving away from economic considerations to other political and cultural aspects, improving IT literacy also creates the space for more liberal and progressive ideas and discourse. It opens the mind and hopefully encourages people to seek knowledge beyond their borders and understand concepts unfamiliar to them. Idealistic as this view may be it does provide hope for a country that is still searching for reconciliation and is trying to build a peaceful society.  Even though there is a disturbing growth of extremist ideology online it is important to use IT as a way to build bridges between communities. Taking the best from IT can be a challenge but the answer can never be for Sri Lanka to close itself away from the world. 


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