girl wearing a VR goggle

Bridging the Parents-Children Digital Divide

Author: Samapika Gautam

Ronish Shrestha (altered name), a pro-level Free Fire Player aged 8, gets frequently yelled at for his poor online assessment at a local school in the suburbs. Ishwori Neupane, mother of a primary schooler, receives frequent complaints from the school administration about their absence during online classes, while she claims to have network connectivity issues and lack of skill to troubleshoot. A single mother in Baluwatar went into the financial crisis after investing her little income in purchasing the ICT (Internet Communication and Technology) infrastructures (laptop, speaker, data packages) for her children’s online education.

These few instances of Digital Chasm are reported from the metropolis arena and the problem additionally intensifies in the rural and poorer communities of Nepal.

School closures due to the strict COVID-19 pandemic measures has affected children nationwide. Amidst the epidemic, many schools in the least developed countries like Nepal had adopted distance learning online education methods, integrating the available information technologies. As a consequence, Nepal experienced a surge in the internet and social media penetration (which was at 36.7%) as of January, 2021.

The recent switch to digital education in Nepal has opened up various possibilities to strengthen the local education system by adding global insights on learning, engaging and sharing information. However, critics believe that at the same time, it has invited a disparity between those with access of ICTs and those without, leading to a socio economic and political issue of ‘Digital Divide’. The issue has isolated many people with limited access to knowledge at remote areas and has denied equal participation of ‘Digital Natives’ and ‘Digital Migrants’ in information society, magnifying the existing instances of social exclusion.


Digital gap formation

A teenager in an urban city downloads illegal pornographic videos (or blocked contents, age-restricted games and websites) using the VPN while his father scuffles to clear his electricity dues online. Students blatantly clone the available notes online while their teacher faces difficulties running smooth virtual classes. An undergraduate in the capital city enjoys free online streaming services like NETFLIX while his grandparents in village have trouble in network connectivity. Here, the Digital Natives who have acquired familiarity with technology while growing up, have no barrier in navigating through the Information Superhighway. While on the other hand, parents whom Marc Prensky refers as Digital Migrants have a long way ahead to overcome this digital barricade.

Such barricades in digital access and knowledge not just denies the basic ‘Right to Information’ but also obstructs the migrants’ participation in the digital economy. Additional factors attributing to the growth in Digital Divide are gender gaps, educational gaps, generational gaps, issues of ‘Access’ and ‘Affordability’ and reluctance in learning the technology.


How does digital access and gap affect both Children and Parents?

Often times, tech-savvy children fall inside the rabbit hole of the dark web, where they are prone to getting abused for drugs, sex trafficking and child pornographies by malicious internet users. An unrestricted access to the bulk of information can be overwhelming and without proper content filtration, one can easily be misled or exploited. Children especially face the grave dangers of pedophiles roving around the internet. Cyber bullying, death threats, unfiltered, age restricted adult contents are other aspects of internet hazards that can have an adverse impact upon the young mindsets of children.

Many studies have shown the repercussions of ‘Information Overload’ are mostly negative on a child’s mental and emotional health and excessive internet exposure can lead to isolation from groups, lack of self-esteem, lack of sleep, anxiety and violent temperaments.

Parallelly, parents also face similar threats on the internet. International Telecommunication Union (ITU) states that there are approximately 1300 million social media users in Nepal. Majority of which are the economically active population. Most of them consider internet for recreational purposes, deriving pleasure and lighthearted information contents from the digital media. However, at the same time, they also have the tendency to be influenced by political propaganda, sensational news, and fraudulent dealings along with fabricated news and stories. They often get distracted by the stock of notifications popping up, flashy pictures, graphic images, scandal news and actually discard the much-needed information. Semi- literate parents who easily trust what is on the web without verifying its’ authenticity are even more prone to hazards of the internet.


The Need for Digital Parenting

Digital Parenting describes parental efforts and practices in comprehending, supporting, and regulating children’s activities in digital environment. A child has the liberty to explore all the digital possibilities, be a part of an informed society but s/he should achieve it with parents’ supervision. World Health Organization (WHO)suggests that parents should regularly monitor online activities by co-using the media, screen-sharing and balancing screen with the other household activities.

However, in a survey for Nepal conducted by ECPAJ Luxemburg (2020) among children aged 6-12, 72% children had indirect access to mobile phone and almost 61% had their own active Facebook account. 65% of the children’s parents were unaware about the content filtration and only 18.2% seem to properly guide and monitor their children’s social media accounts.

Digital parenting in such cases provide opportunities for parents to mediate children’s activities involved with information and technologies. Parents can then support their children in identifying the threats and risks online and help them cope with them in constructive ways. Role of parenting in digital world ensures better communication with children by avoiding parent-child conflict and prioritizing their socio-emotional wellbeing. Media literacy programs are helpful for parents in such cases in building digital self-efficacy. The issue of Digital Divide between parents and their children can be resolved to some extent by becoming a better Digital Cyber Parent.


Role of the Local Government

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has introduced some guidelines and online learning portals to continue education amidst the pandemic. Distance learning radio programs offering edutainment was a good effort to cover the educational gaps by offering their contents in local languages and making it parent-child friendly. Education Unionists ‘Nepal Teachers’ Association’ also carried out a campaign called ‘Every Home a school’ where they coordinated with the head of local school to mobilize the teachers in uplifting student’s motivation, providing virtual emotional support and raising awareness on health and safety issues. With the support of parents, additional beneficial activities were suggested such as, outdoor learning, yoga and exercises, indoor games, household tasks, motivational films, and writings etc.

In the context of Nepal, to pave a sustainable path for digital learning and to reduce digital gaps, the existing ICT policies must be revised. National policies and guidelines should be able to fulfill the educational demands and relevant stakeholders must assign special priority to urban/rural parents who hand over the ICT tools and kits for their children without guidance or supervision.

Some affordable solutions to bridge the Digital Divide between the parents and children are suggested as follows:

  • Digital workshops and awareness programs on local levels (about e-governance, education, and health services) can embrace the excluded population in the digital landscapes with the help of IT trainers and facilitators.
  • Basic ICT education, parent-child friendly learning should prioritize digital parenting.
  • Content filtration, Cyber Safety Protocols, and guidelines for operating and handling digital information should be ensured.
  • Remote and e-learning facilities should be provided in minimum costs to the disadvantaged and impoverished working communities.

The pedagogic shift of learning in a virtual environment needs some decent years to fully adapt. In a post-COVID era, education system is likely to become a fusion of traditional and digital learning approaches. This means parents and children need to be better prepared for the upcoming change and as mentioned already, easy, accessible, and affordable ICT infrastructures and policies can provide significant aid in shrinking the existing Digital Divide.


The views and opinions expressed in the piece above are solely those of the original author(s) and contributor(s). They do not necessarily represent the views of Centre for Social Change.

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Samapika Gautam is Kathmandu-based thespian, student of journalism and an avid navigator of pop culture.

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