Digital divide is any form of inequality between groups broadly construed in regards to access, use of, or knowledge of information and communication technology. Inside countries, digital divide may refer to inequality between individuals, businesses or households at different demographic levels. The gap between individuals who are able to access ICTs, and those who cannot entail the digital divide. Digital divide is extreme in Africa for example, in 2003, out of the 800 million inhabitants of the continent, only 1 in 4 had a radio, 1 in 40 a telephone and 1 out of 130 had a computer. The divide is large in the continents countryside where, lack of telephone lines, access to roads and electricity separates the rural majority from the urban people (Norris & Pippa. 2001).
Certain researchers suggest that digital divide is rapidly shifting from access and connectivity, to ICT gaps and to a knowledge divide. Technological knowledge divide, presents the possibility of the gap moving beyond access and having the necessary resources to be able to connect to ICTs and interpret and understand information presented once connected.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are a variety of communication and information technologies used in networking, communication and information sharing. They include computers, mobile phones, the internet, television and radio. ICT access and control provides individuals with developmental benefits. These benefits include increased markets and information about markets access, flexible access to incomes and employments, a reduced social isolation and improved access to governmental services (Norris & Pippa. 2001). However, evidence shows that there exists a challenge in providing access to ICT in less developed and developing African states.
Most African countries are making progresses in improving control and access of ICTs at national levels. However, most of the rural and poor urban communities are often not well equipped. Majority of people in African countries live in rural settings. In the sub-Saharan Africa, 70.5% of these people live in the sub Saharan Africa. Women, often make up the majority of these populations. Because of uninformed and uninspired public policies, accesses to ICTs in these communities are often not well served. Existence of incentives or regulations that prevent ICT network providers from designing networks that focus on providing connectivity to wealthy households and large corporate is minimal. This is a digital divide that leaves individuals in shantytowns and informal settlements without access, hence minimal knowledge access.
In most African countries, the rate at which men and women are able to access and control ICTs shows unacknowledged divide. Large incidences of households headed by females, often under the poverty line, exacerbates lack of affordability. Communication needs by the rural women, in addition are not well understood and are often not considered important in the acquisition of specific interventions. When women do not control their financial resources and time, they tend to face problems in having access to facilities and training opportunities. In African countries in which the government has not implemented policies to provide equal educational opportunities for women and girls, the computer literacy levels in these countries is much lower than that of boys and men.
Disparities not only exist inside a country, but also within the African region (Norris & Pippa. 2001). E.g. the fixed line penetration of Egypt is three times that of Nigeria and three-quarters that of the African continent. Fixed lines are found in only in six countries in the Continent. Access needs to be affordable for ordinary Africans. In most of the African countries, the prices of broadband remains very high compared to income levels.
However, African leaders who are looking for methods to bridge the digital divide between their region and the world view the WSIS (World Summit on the information Society) as an opportunity that they can use to obtain global commitment to extend information and communications technologies (ICTs) to their people.
However, there are a majority of reasons as to why it is necessary to increase public access in new technology. ICT has become an enormous drive of development. Most importantly, ICT is the potential for independent commercial use by local entrepreneurs that may create employment and economic growth. A growing ICT sector provides skilled employment for better payment.
Digital divide is often based on insufficient infrastructure, inappropriate policy regimes and high cost of access. To reduce digital divide, approaches that broadly attack these issues have to be taken. Proper investments can make ICT an engine for development. However, misguided investments can diverse scarce financial and human resources from more fundamental poverty reduction measures (Norris & Pippa. 2001).
Many African countries are on the increase of leapfrogging old technological approaches. As a result, wireless mode of communication and mobile phones are on the increase becoming the preferred means of communication. With the number of users doubling each year, it provides an opportunity for potential telecommunication investors to do business in the continent.
To achieve equalizing mode of communication to both the rich and the poor, African governments need to strike a balance in strengthening public communication facilities so as to ensure the poor and the rural dwellers have access to communication facilities. Popular development use of ICT in Africa is in the educational sector. Universities and other educational institutions are springing up to provide education to a great number of students with limited resources. This enables the students come up with new technological advancements that are applicable in the global arena. This enables African products become competitive internationally hence reduce the level of digital divide of the continent in the international level.
To facilitate universal access, the continent needs to be innovative in its tele-centre use. Tele-centers allow individuals to share ICT resources. The African nations can also learn from other developing regions that are producing cheap and affordable computers to broaden access to their inhabitants. While there are divergent views on the contribution of what ICTs can make, there is widespread acknowledgement that ICTs can extend vital services such as healthcare to poorer communities.
African leaders have adopted declarations aimed at speeding up the development of Information technology on the continent over the last decade. In 1996, the OAU (Organization of African Unity) adopted an initiative to provide guiding framework for ICT efforts in the region. However, most governments blame lack of action on financial shortages. To deal with her daunting challenges, the African continent will require more vigorous and candid dialogue between her ordinary citizens and their leaders. ICT provides a link in the process of development. However, to do this, it requires an enabling environment of policies and infrastructure to contribute efficiently to economic growth (Norris & Pippa. 2001). Advanced information and distributed computing technological advances can have positive contributions in improving higher education in developing countries. An e-infrastructure for research and education across Africa is expected to make a large contribution in building the human capacity that is necessary in accelerating development.
In conclusion, for the African continent to be able to overcome digital divide in the various countries, various governmental policies that promote ICTs require enactment. Access to Education and promotion of equality for every student is essential