The Continuing Barrier to Digital Transformation in Kuwait – Yalla Match

Fahad Al-Sumait

An artistic presentation of the Silk City project in Kuwait, which is part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. Source: arabianbusiness.com

The constraints on physical mobility and human interaction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the potential of information and communication technology (ICT) to help societies function in times of crisis. In fact, even before the pandemic, the pace and spread of ICTs was unprecedented in history. The pandemic has also accelerated the acceptance and application of digital technologies for many, but for the societies on the other side of the digital divide, the gap has only widened.

Today, countries and organizations are scrambling to take advantage of what many call the digital transformation of society. Doing so opens up opportunities for improving e-commerce, job creation and efficiency, education and service delivery, as well as creating countless opportunities to improve social connectivity and personal well-being. However, the pandemic has also illustrated the disappointing limitations of ICTs when it comes to meeting the needs of already marginalized communities, even within the world’s richest and most digitally connected countries. Digital inequalities in the MENA region in particular were among the largest worldwide and may have become even more pronounced after the outbreak of COVID-19.

This blog specifically looks at Kuwait as one of the most digitally and economically distinct countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Not only do digital inequalities remain highly pervasive, but they also significantly hamper the kinds of digital transformation that could help Kuwait shift from its current dependence on hydrocarbons to a knowledge-based economy.

Measure digital inequality in Kuwait

The DiSTO Kuwait project represents the Middle East’s first global application of ‘digital skills on tangible results’ methodology for assessing digital inequalities. DiSTO projects take as their starting point the idea that online and offline inequalities are reciprocal. Traditionally disadvantaged groups in society are more likely to experience greater constraints and negative outcomes from their use of ICT than those who enjoy greater privileges. While this notion helps researchers and policymakers to address the nature of digital inequalities more accurately, it simultaneously emphasizes the essential role of social and economic conditions that exist in a given context, in which ICTs increasingly overlap.

Kuwait’s ICT infrastructure and digitally active population are among the highest in the region (and the world). However, this potential does not necessarily translate into better economic, social or personal benefits in the digital sphere than in other similar, or even less fortunate, countries. For example, in terms of its ability to develop ICT, the Portulans Network Readiness Index 2021 ranks Kuwait 55The tenth 130 economies, one place down from 2019 and the lowest among the Gulf countries. CISCO’s 2019 digital readiness index reflects similar results. To examine how digital inequalities contribute to this situation, it is necessary to first measure the distribution of digital capabilities and associated outcomes among the populations of highly diverse countries.

Kuwait Digital Inequality Report 2022 It is a nationally representative survey that measures ICT access, skills, uses and outcomes. Selected results are presented here to illustrate significant demographic trends, with more details available in the full report.

To close the gender gap?

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technology, the digital gender gap in the MENA region in 2021 remained larger than the world average. Contrary to this regional trend, however, Oman, UAE and Kuwait all show higher internet usage among women than men. Our project confirmed this finding for Kuwait, where women on average showed higher personal internet use, greater access to devices and more work-related outcomes than men. However, there is still a small gender gap in terms of specific skill types, with all technical, creative and information mobility skills ranking lower among women.

Although women use ICT more at work and achieve higher performance in this field, their levels of satisfaction with it and the results they achieved were lower. One explanation is that ICT tools and / or expectations that control their use, especially for work, can be implicitly adapted to the preferences of male users, even if the pressure to use them is similar for both sexes. As long as women remain under-represented in areas such as technology design, content creation and organizational leadership, digital experiences tailored to their specific needs, which can bridge remaining gender gaps, are likely to remain elusive.

age matters

The greatest inequalities in digital skills occur between age groups. For all skill areas combined, people between the ages of 18-25 show twice the average level of those over 40. This younger group also has greater access to technologies that can be accessed online. However, one area where these conditions do not translate into productivity is the use of ICT at work or school. In this category, the youngest group scored lower than any other working-age population. Therefore, policies and practices aimed at better integrating the digital capabilities of the youth into the workplace and schools can help the country to exploit at this latent pool of talent. Innovative and collaborative approaches are also needed to help the population over the age of 40 to develop their skills and ensure that relevant digital content is readily available and accessible. Failure to do so will only widen the current age gap.

professional differences

As with age, differences in skill levels are also noticeable according to a person’s occupation. It is understood that digital skills are more concentrated among students and employees, who are more likely to use ICT in their work. However, the unemployed also scored high on their digital skills levels. This indicates the potential for significant untapped potential outside the labor market. According to the type of skills, social skills are the highest for each group (per profession and society as a whole). It is worrying that information navigation skills were the lowest, even though searching for reliable information is the primary driver for most people to get online, regardless of their professional status.

The importance of education

The level of education a person receives is one of the most compelling indicators for predicting the digital divide worldwide. In Kuwait, where only one in four residents has a higher than secondary education, this rift is particularly strong. Despite universal access to and use of the Internet in Kuwait, the less educated population still faces a wide range of barriers, such as restrictions on how to connect to the Internet, the content to which they have access, the quality and quantity of internet uses, the skills they possess, and the results they can realistically achieve.

role of origin

Kuwait is a country with a majority of expatriates, and foreigners make up two thirds of all its inhabitants. A person’s country of origin does not play a role in their digital proficiency levels, despite their importance for ICT access, usage and outcomes. For example, among the many Asian expats, who make up about a third of the population, the smartphone is their only way to access the internet. In contrast, Kuwait has the lowest barriers to entry, but they participate less in many online activities than many other nationalities, such as buying and selling goods and services, or using ICT at work.

next step

Having shown significant areas of inconsistency between groups, the report argues that the next step is to effectively bridge these gaps with current and future efforts aimed at alleviating digital inequality. Regulators, educators and institutions in the private and third sectors can contribute to Kuwait’s digital transformation by recognizing and addressing inequalities by monitoring, educating and involving citizens as well as non-citizens. Priority should be given when multiple risk identities cross, for example between elderly, men and expatriates of Arab or Asian descent with primary education levels; A profile that describes a significant part of the country’s population.

Establishing policies and practices that help enhance digital experiences for all will promote greater equality, limit higher participation, and contribute to social benefits in terms of productivity and well-being. By doing so, Kuwait will also help transform society more effectively from an economy that depends on oil tankers to one that is accessible – to everyone – through tablets.

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