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Review: Government’s Digital Literacy targets not met because of paucity of funds

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The government told the standing committee on Information Technology that paucity of funds was the main reason for not achieving the set targets under PMGDISHA, the flagship digital literacy program of the central government. A host of other issues were also highlighted by the standing committee regarding the implementation of this scheme. Here is a review.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) defines Digital Literacy as ‘the ability of individuals and communities to understand and use digital technologies for meaningful actions within life situations. Any individual who can operate computer/laptop/tablet/smart phone and use other IT related tools is being considered as digitally literate.’  While the current government is pushing for Digital India, ensuring digital literacy is a must for achieving the objective of transforming India into a digitally empowered society.

In 2019, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT headed by Anurag Singh Thakur submitted its report on the review of the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) with 16 recommendations. An action taken report of the same was submitted in March 2020, in which 12 of the recommendations were accepted.

Stark difference in the percentage of people who could use a computer in Rural & Urban areas

Issue: In 2014, the National Sample Survey Office’s (NSSO) report revealed that only 14% of the households in the country including 6% rural households and 29% urban households, had computers.

Recommendation: Ministry should have sustained focus on digital literacy programs. The programs should be streamlined based on the needs of people and should be strengthened to achieve its objectives. 

Action Taken: National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) and ‘Digital Saksharta Abhiyan’ (DISHA) launched in 2014 were successfully completed. Currently, MEITY is implementing Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) that aims to train one person per household (6 crore persons) in rural areas on digital literacy. Under PMGDISHA, 51% women, 20% SC and 8% ST communities and 43% OBC candidates were covered. 

Comments: Committee has asked for reiteration of the reply with renewed focus and strategy to achieve the set targets. 

Issue: Schemes with similar objectives rolled out without gap creates confusion making their monitoring complicated. (NDLM was approved in March 2014 with a target to train 10 Lakh citizens in 18 months. DISHA was approved in December 2014 aiming to train 42.5 Lakh persons in 4 years.) 

Recommendation: Digital literacy programs should be based on long-term planning with noticeable results. Government may consider adding a component of digital literacy along with the general literacy programs, particularly focusing on youngsters. 

Action Taken: Under NDLM, 10 Lakh persons were provided basic digital literacy training. DISHA was later initiated to extend the scope of the scheme to grassroots government functionaries like ASHA and Anganwadi workers. PMGDISHA was later launched after completion of NDLM/DISHA schemes. MEITY has also shared the content of digital literacy component to be added to general literacy programs, with MHRD.

Digital Literacy programs only 2 crore individuals so far

Issue: Though the three schemes put together aimed to cover 6.5 crore individuals, till October 2018, only around 2 crore individuals were covered, amounting to a minute 1.67% of India’s population. Also, some states/UTs such as Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Lakshadweep, and Meghalaya had a low achievement. 

Recommendation: A larger proportion of Indian population should be covered. The criterion of only one person per household may be done away with. Adequate representation of minority groups needs to be ensured. Measures for uniform implementation of scheme across states/UTs should be taken. Good practices in some states may be shared. 

Action taken: As on 12 April 2019, under PMGDISHA, a total of 2.19 crore candidates had registered, 2.16 crore candidates trained, and about 1.26 crore candidates certified. DISHA and NDLM had achieved their targets. Promotion of programs with focus on NER and preference to women and minority communities is also given. Around 42 lakh SC candidates, 19.9 Lakh ST candidates, and 1.08 crore women candidates were given training under the scheme. Success stories from well performing states are circulated for replication in other states. Each State/UT has identified an Implementing Agency that works with CSC e-Governance Services to ensure that targets of the scheme are achieved in timely manner.

Issue: Focus is being given to numbers/quantitative parameters instead of quality of training or qualitative parameters. 16 out of 36 states/UTs had achieved 100% certification which seemed unrealistic. 

Recommendation: Qualitative training should be imparted to ensure positive behavioural change in successful trainees and the use of digital tools continues even after completion of training. Ministry must also undertake assessment of scheme to evaluate qualitative parameters of training. 

Action Taken: Rapid Assessment System (RAS) has been integrated with the scheme to get continuous feedback- through SMS/Web Portal/Application. Candidates are also encouraged to enrol at nearest Training Centres (TCs) for availing the facilities, infrastructure, and guidance to ensure there is a behavioural change. 10 Lakh candidates out of 10.59 lakh enrolled were certified under NDLM. The target was enhanced by 30% in some states/UTs where original targets were achieved under NDLM/DISHA which helped achieve 100% certification of candidates in some states/UTs.

‘Digital Finance for Rural India: Creating Awareness and Access’, initiated post demonetization had no audit

Issue: ‘Digital Finance for Rural India: Creating Awareness and Access’ was initiated in November 2016 post demonetization to train merchants on digital payments. The scheme had over 2 crore beneficiaries and 27 lakh merchants received training for 6 months. No third-party audit/evaluation was in place for the scheme that closed after achievement of target.

Recommendation: A component on digital payments may be added to PMGDISHA to cater to specific requirements of merchants on digital payments. Adequate monitoring mechanism must also be put in place for all ongoing and planned digital literacy schemes.

Action Taken: A module on digital payments was included in PMGDISHA’s curriculum. Using financial tools such as UPI, USSD etc., Aadhar based digital payments, are some of the topics covered. No third-party evaluation was conducted for this program since it was an awareness program. But it was reviewed by Project Review and Steering Committee constituted for DISHA.

Only 24% of target was achieved in 18 months with only 6 months left for completion 

Issue: PMGDISHA was introduced in March 2017 with objective of covering 6 crore households by 31 March 2019. As on 22 October 2018, only 1.45 crore persons were covered, comprising 24% of the target. 

Recommendation: Measures to address challenges and speed up implementation should be adopted.

Action Taken: Targets could not be achieved due to shortage in funds. The targets of CSCs which are performing well have been enhanced. Workshops, seminars and other activities are being undertaken to spread awareness. Unavailability of Aadhar in some places was another issue which was resolved by using alternate photo ID cards, which may be further extended as per need. 

Comments: The factors posing hindrance could have been considered at the time of launch so that target achievement would not have been affected. 

Issue: PMGDISHA was approved in 2017 with a budget outlay of Rs. 2351.38 crore. An amount of Rs.1175.69 crore each was required in 2017-18 and 2018-19 for its implementation. Only Rs. 500 crores were allocated for the implementation as of September 2018. 

Recommendation: MEITY should seek additional funds from Finance Ministry to achieve target by 31 March 2019.

Action Taken: An amount of Rs. 538 Crore was released for implementation of PMGDISHA. For 2019-20, Rs. 400 Crore was allocated which could be used to scale up the activities to achieve the remaining target. 

Comments: Committee should be informed of target achieved till end of 2018-19, households covered in 2019-20 and target for 2020-21.

More Training Partners required to achieve target

Issue: NGOs/Institutions/Corporates who wish to impart digital literacy training as Training Partners (TPs) must meet prescribed criteria. Around 4,144 applications were received by CSC-SPV of which only around 600 were accepted, which have a total of 36,858 training centers in India.

Recommendation: To achieve the target, enrolment of TPs needs to be increased and suitable changes be made in the criteria to gain more partners without compromising on commitment and data privacy.

Action Taken: A total of 636 TPs with 1,31,615 TCs across India have affiliated with CSC-SPV under PMGDISHA. Efforts are being made to engage IT institutions to work under the scheme as TPs or under their CSR initiative. 

Issue:  Enrolment in the scheme requires an individual to prove that no one in their household is digitally literate and is of the 14 to 60 years age group. This is counter verified by Panchayat official/Gazetted officer/school principal.

Recommendation: Misuse of discretionary power is a possibility and to avert this, the enrolment procedure should be made transparent. A strong grievance redressal and feedback mechanism accessible to all needs to be in place.

Action Taken: All information is made available on web portal for transparency. Grievance redressal form is also available online. Grievances are regularly addressed by Program Management Unit and Centralized Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System (CPGRAMS). 

Comments: The available mechanisms should be such that even a digitally illiterate person can access. 

Issue: Access to costly IT hardware, software and connectivity issues is a major problem when it comes to utilizing online services like email, payments, citizen services, etc.

Recommendation: Programs may be suitably re-oriented such that smartphones and applications which are easier to use and cheap are included. Content may be appropriate for all age groups and may be made available on WhatsApp and similar applications.

Action Taken: PMGDISHA content is developed with inputs from experts and is available in 22 languages in the website portal and on YouTube. Feature and smart phones, laptops, and tablets are also covered in the syllabus. Content is sent through WhatsApp by state/district level implementation teams. 

Multiple challenges exist which should be resolved through coordination

Issue: Multiple challenges such as unavailability of requisite infrastructure and awareness, lack of awareness, connectivity issues, inability to enter sparsely populated and inaccessible areas, lack of support from stakeholders, act as hindrance. 

Recommendation: Close coordination between state governments, other stakeholders, and entities will help address the issues.

Action Taken: 30 states have a State Implementing Agency that monitors PMGDISHA. Most states are supportive especially Telangana, Jharkhand, and Haryana are highly supportive in scheme implementation, monitoring and review. Regular workshops are held by concerned agencies to increase state support. 

Featured Image: Government’s Digital Literacy targets

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