ICT4HD. Ismael Peña-López: The role of governments in promoting the Information Society for reducing the Digital Divide

Notes from the I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development, at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, and held in Fuenlabrada, Spain, on May 13th and 14th, 2010. More notes on this event: ict4hd10.

Ismael Peña-López: The role of governments in promoting the Information Society for reducing the Digital Divide

If you cannot see the slides please visit <a href="http://ictlogy.net/?p=3368">http://ictlogy.net/?p=3368</a>

I International Workshop on Research in ICT for Human Development (2010)

PEP-NET interview on the Goverati

Bengt Feil — thank you very much! — interviewed me for the Pan European eParticipation Network (PEP-NET) to sum up in three minutes my speech Goverati: e-Aristocrats or the delusion of e-Democracy that I gave at the eDem10 Conference.

If you cannot see the video please visit http://ictlogy.net/?p=3360

The main points I make on the interview are:

  • During the 250 years of our industrial society, capital owners (capitalists) have been the ones that have ruled the world, the ones that are in power.
  • Our democratic system is shaped according to this industrial society and its power relationships.
  • In the upcoming knowledge society, the ones that will be able to manage cleverly knowledge by means of digital tools (digerati) are likely to have a higher share or power in all the aspects of life, especially the government (goverati).
  • We need to work to make access to knowledge as widespread as possible — access to infrastructures, digital competences, effective usage — so to avoid replacing the existing plutocracy with a new e-aristocracy.

ITU, Measuring the Information Society 2010: the digital divide is not narrowing

The International Telecommunication Union has issued their yearly report on the measurement of the Information Society, e-Readiness and/or the Digital Divide: Measuring the Information Society 2010.

The report provides new and up-to-date calculations of the ICT Development Index, which are then used to back the statement that The digital divide is shrinking slightly. The problem is that, in my opinion, the digital divide is widening. How is it so?

Four years ago I already had this same sort of reflection then concerning the World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report 2006. The ITU’s calculations were then technically right, and nevertheless my disagreement was twofold. On the one hand, I thought that not only euclidean distances but the absolute values themselves of telephone penetration should also to be taken into account; on the other hand, the ITU just did not took into account broadband to define the digital divide, an (in my opinion) unforgivable omission.

This year the problem comes over again. The report repeatedly states that the digital divide is shrinking. To be able to do so, the ITU creates four groups (high, upper, middle, low) in which economies are aggregated; averages are calculated et, voilà, the digital divide is shrinking. But we know the problem with averages: (1) I’ve got two apples, you’ve got none, on average we’ve got one each; (2) my left foot stands in frozen water, my right one in boiling water and, on average, I’m pretty comfortable, thank you very much.

Let us look instead at what has happened at the disaggregate level. And to do so, let us build a hypothetical model where, in the last year (from 2007 to 2008) every economy would have reduced by a half the distance they had in the previous year with the leader. That is:

IDIey = IDIey-1 + 1/2(IDIly-1 – IDIey-1)

Where e is a specific economy, l is the leading economy (the economy with a highest IDI value), and y is the year. If we plotted the IDI values for year 2007 against these hypothetical values for year 2008, the result is:

Graphic: Hypothetical evolution of the ICT Development Index
Source: ITU (2010). Measuring the Information Society 2010
for year 2007 values (year 2008 are made up).

If all blue dots stayed just on the red line, nothing would have happened. As the lesser digitally developed countries are far from it — while the higher digitally developed ones are closer to it — it means that their IDI values for this year are higher than in the previous one, and they are higher the more distant they initially were in relationship with the leader, whose IDI value has remained constant. This is what a shrinking digital divide would look like.

Let us look now at what has happened between 2002 and 2007 and 2007 and 2008, which is how data is provided in the two last Measuring the Information Society reports:

As can be easily seen, the evolution of the IDI during the 2002-2008 is just the opposite to what we should be expecting was the digital divide really shrinking. Instead, we see that the economies with higher IDI values (i.e. more digitally developed) increased their IDI values during that period much more than the countries with lower values. Yes, all economies achieved higher degrees of digital development as measured by the ICT Development Index, but the richer, the more development achieved, not the other way round, thus increasing the digital divide, not shrinking it.

My calculations could be wrong and my approach could be plain wrong, but aggregates usually are worst approaches than disaggregates. Besides, people wants to hear bad news (the digital divide is shrinking) rather than listening to wet blankets. The problem is that if we do believe the divide is shrinking then we can shift our attention and resources elsewhere, thus worsening a situation that was even worse than admitted.

Update 20100301

Giacomo Zanello suggests in the comments to analyze whether the distance of a specific country with the leader has either increased or decreased. That is, to calculate this (I slightly modify his proposal to adjust it to the nomenclature already used and to produce mostly positive values):

Δ IDI_distance_to_leaderey = |IDIly – IDIey| – |IDIly-1 – IDIey-1|

The results are even more clear than the ones I had already used. By using Zanello’s exercise, we do see that the distance to the leader in tems of IDI values increases the less digitally developed countries are. In other words: lesser digitally developed countries are increasingly far from higher digitally developed countries, hence the digital divide is increasing, and it increases more the worst you are.

Thank you so much for the tip, Giacomo!

More Information

The two divides in digital access: income and refuseniks

Two years ago, in the US (which can probably be extrapolated in most higher income countries) the reasons for not subscribing to the Internet where many, but an important one was refusal to, that is, people that just did not want to connect to the Internet.

Three years later we do not speak anymore of Internet access, but of broadband access, as we believe that what increasingly matters is the broadband divide rather a “simple” access to the Internet divide.

And the composition of the digital divide related to access has slightly changed:


  • 44.6% do not have broadband access because of cost (we can assume that not having a computer or an inadequate one is also because of its cost)
  • 37.8% state they do not need or are not interested in the Internet

It looks like skills are becoming less important and that economic reasons become more important. Though slightly decreasing, it is still astonishing that, of those who do not have broadband access, more than a third do not find any utility in going online.

There is something really wrong in here. On the one hand, as the crisis strikes with more virulence, more people is left behind in our Information Society because of lack of access. On the other hand, we are definitely failing in raising awareness that the Information Society is a train that you’ll either take or it’ll run over you: no “leave it pass besides you” option.

ICTs won’t necessarily bring better health, higher quality education, a more transparent and participative democracy, more wealth and jobs for all. But lack of ICTs will most likely decrease the probability to access health services, education, democracy, economic development and jobs at all. The more time I devote to studying the Information Society the lest optimistic I am that ICTs will change the main structures of the world, but I also am the more pessimistic that lack of them will end up with entire societies and ways of living.

When chances are uncertainty of improvement or almost certainty of perishing, we should definitely:

  • Enable physical access for those that are not online, maybe through public access points embedded in their communities
  • Raise awareness on the impact of ICTs in our society, so that those who could be online but just don’t want are (sorry to be patronizing here) better informed to take their decisions.

More information

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (2010). Digital Nation: 21st Century America’s Progress Towards Universal Broadband Internet Access. Washington, DC: National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education

In November 2008, the UOC UNESCO Chair in e-Learning organized its Fifth International Seminar entitled Fighting the Digital Divide through Education, which I contributed to organize and reported here.

After that event, the director of the Review of University and the Knowledge Society (RUSC), Josep Maria Duart, asked me to coordinate a monograph on that same subject, the Digital Divide, but within the framework of Higher Education. This monograph has just been published: Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education.

The monograph aims at giving an comprehensive overview to the topic of the Digital Divide, from infrastructures to the more philosophic concepts, and from mere access to impact, always related to Education and, most especially (though not exclusively) to Higher Education. Following are the abstracts and links to the full text articles. The introduction is not (only) your usual introduction, but also a sort of a roadmap that wants to explain the structure and rationale behind the monograph. Enjoy your reading and don’t stop you from sending your feedback to the authors. Last, but not least, I want to thank Matti Tedre, Fredrick Ngumbuke, Jyri Kemppainen, Neil Selwyn, Jonatan Castaño-Muñoz (and other persons that at last could not make it) for their support and contribution to this project. I cannot but also thank Elsa Corominas for her tireless editing effort, and Michael van Laake and Shirley Burgess for their empathy and understanding when reviewing and translating the manuscripts. Thank you all.

Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education (Introduction)
Ismael Peña-López

This is the introductory article to the monograph “Redefining the Digital Divide in Higher Education”. The article describes a comprehensive approach to the phenomenon of the digital divide and digital access, based on Marc Raboy and Mark Warschauer’s research. This approach depicts the evolution from mere physical access to effective use of information and communication technologies in the field of higher education. Within this framework, the articles in the monograph are presented highlighting their role in contributing to a comprehensive approach and reflection on the digital divide in Higher Education.

Download the introduction (PDF file 246 KB)

Infrastructure, Human Capacity, and High Hopes: A Decade of Development of e-Learning in a Tanzanian HEI
Matti Tedre, Fredrick Ngumbuke, Jyri Kemppainen

Tumaini University, Iringa University College in Tanzania began to develop technology-enhanced learning in 1999. At the beginning of the process, the college had no public computer laboratories. The e-learning capacity was gradually developed over the following 11 years: computer laboratories, a local area network, an electronic library collection, a dedicated IT support department, Internet connections, electronic presentations, a B.Sc. program in IT, video lectures, and online learning. In this article, we analyse the complex network of challenges that we faced during the development process. We discuss technical issues with ICT equipment, system administration, and networks, and we analyse socio-cultural issues with training, funding, and pedagogy.

Download the article (PDF file 814 KB)

From Laptops to Competences: Bridging the Digital Divide in Education
Ismael Peña-López

Most of the existing literature that deals with the digital divide in the educational system focuses either on schools or universities, but rarely do we see a vertical approach where the system is considered as a whole. In this paper we relate initiatives that aim to bridge the digital divide in the current situation in higher education. We discuss why policies that focus on infrastructures (e.g. laptops) are not the answer, as they mostly leave digital competences unattended, leading to (or not helping to amend) the digital void in universities in matters of skills. We end by proposing a general framework to define digital skills so that they are included in syllabuses at all stages of the educational path.

Download the article (PDF file 717 KB)

Degrees of Digital Division: Reconsidering Digital Inequalities and Contemporary Higher Education
Neil Selwyn

Whilst many authors are now confident to dismiss the notion of the digital divide, this paper argues that inequalities in ICT use in contemporary higher education are of growing rather than diminishing importance. In particular, it argues that there is an urgent need for the higher education community to develop more sophisticated understandings of the nature of the digital divisions that exist within current cohorts of university students – not least inequalities of ‘effective’ use of ICT to access information and knowledge. With these thoughts in mind, the paper presents a review of recent research and theoretical work in the area of digital exclusion and the digital divide, and considers a number of reasons why digital exclusion remains a complex and entrenched social problem within populations of higher education students.

Download the article (PDF file 349 KB)

Digital Inequality Among University Students in Developed Countries and its Relation to Academic Performance
Jonatan Castaño-Muñoz

Research on the digital divide has shown that it is important to study more than just the differences between those who do or do not have Internet access. Other dimensions that should currently be studied are: Internet skills, time spent on the Internet and, in particular, the use people make of the Internet. For each of these it is important to study the determinants and social consequences. In this paper we first present an overview of these dimensions and their determinants, and secondly analyse the influence of the dimensions with respect to the academic performance of university students. The analysed data, in agreement with international research, demonstrate that a) the effects of the Internet on academic performance are not direct, but mediated by variables and, b) the positive effects of the Internet are more pronounced in those students whose background is already more favourable for achieving better academic results without using the Internet, in agreement with the knowldege gap hypothesis.

Download the article (PDF file 356 KB)

Monograph: Framing the Digital Divide in Higher Education

Download the whole monograph (PDF file 4,199 KB)

Digital Divide and Social Inclusion (VII): Education for the Knowledge Society through Social Inclusion

Notes from the first II Conferencia Internacional Brecha Digital e Inclusión Social (II International Conference on the Digital Divide and Social Inclusion held at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid will be hosting at their campus in Leganés (Spain) on October 28th to 30th, 2009.

Plenary session: Education for the Knowledge Society through Social Inclusion
Moderator: Juan Manuel Villasuso Estomba, Professor at the Universidad de Costa Rica y Director de PROSIC

Digital Divide: Results of a cognitive summation
Jesús Lau, Director de la USBI Veracruz y Coordinador de la Biblioteca Virtual, Universidad Veracruzana

Education makes a difference in technology adoption. But socialization — or the social factor — is even more important. on the other hand, we tend to focus on content, on knowledge, when assessing the success of education, but just seldom focus on skills and competences; though this should be the goal of the school and of Education at large.

Cognitive processes become useful when applied into action. That’s why the shift from knowledge to competences is so important.

Map of skills:

  • reasoning,
  • oral expression,
  • literacy,
  • ICT skills and media literacy,
  • informational literacy.

While Internet penetration is still low and increases with a very low speed, mobile telephony has a higher penetration and is indeed more quickly adopted by new users. We should probably leverage mobile telephony to foster access to the Information Society.

Some insights:

  • The technological divide is an output of the economic development
  • Education is determinant for social inclusion
  • Cognitive inequality is cause-effect of the digital divide
  • We need inclusive societies, and education is an inequality killer
  • Policies of informational inclusion are highly required

Multiliteracy, citizenry and social inclusion
Manuel Area Moreira (Catedrático de Didáctica y Organización Escolar. Facultad de Educación de la Universidad de La Laguna

Please go to http://ictlogy.net/?p=2932 to see the embedded presentation

Libraries, historically: expensive, based on scarcity, classy or elitist, individualist. Now, content is free, there is abundance, democratization of the access to knowledge, interactivity.

The digital divide is not only lack of access to technology, but the practices. Illiteracy has always been a factor of differentiation and power. But, actually, the concept itself of citizenship has changed in a digital society. To be a full citizen, several literacies have to be mastered: basic literacy, media, technological and informational. We need multiliteracies.

Two opposite approaches when fostering the Information Society: mercantilist vs. aimed towards inclusion for a democratic development. In the words of Paulo Freire: Banking literacy (I’ve got stock of knowledge and can give it to you) vs. problem literacy (you have to feel you need to know things to solve your problems).

Dimensions of skills:

  • Instrumental dimension: know how to access information
  • Cognitive dimension: know how to transform the information into knowledge
  • Socio-comunicational dimension: know how to express oneself and communicate
  • Axiological dimension: know how to use information democratically and ethically

Summing up: without a multiliterate citizenry there will be not a democratic building of the Information Society.

Computer and Informational Literacies (Ci2) in Higher Education
Nieves González Fernández-Villavicencio, Head of the Sección de Tecnología y Sistemas de la Biblioteca de la Universidad de Sevilla. Biblioteca General Universitaria

How do digital natives behave? Concerning just usage (not their skills) it doesn’t seem that there are many different across ages, being “just for fun” the main reason people access the Internet. Hence, digital natives might not be that savvy when it comes to mastering usage (not tools).

Information search and usage techniques: a new subject in the syllabuses of the new degrees at UC3M
Mayte Ramos, Director of the Biblioteca del Campus de Colmenarejo de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid; Raúl Aguilera, Director of the Biblioteca de Ciencias Sociales y Jurídicas de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid.

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) offers new opportunities to change the way people learn and, more important, how resources are made available for and used by students. This, of course, puts the focus on students’ competences and, among others, on digital skills, necessary to access digital information.

The library helped in creating a subject on “Search and usage of information techniques”:

  • where to find information you can trust;
  • ethical use of information, citing and bibliography;
  • information retrieving in electronic environments


I think that most definitions on what digital literacy is, fall short in many issues, especially in the community factor and the strategical factor. Please see Towards a comprehensive definition of digital skills, by myself prior in this blog.

On the other hand, after a debate on “good” or “bad” uses of the Internet, I strongly recommend reading Neuman & Celano’s The Knowledge Gap: Implications of Leveling the Playing Field for Low-Income and Middle-Income Children and Warschauer’s Laptops and Literacy: A Multi-Site Case Study.

II International Conference on the Digital Divide and Social Inclusion (2009)