Speaking The Language of ‘The Next Half Billion’
500 million people in India are on the precipice of digital connectivity within the next 5 years. When this hopeful population pours into the more ‘inclusive’ market, will we be able to speak their 22 different official languages?
By 2025, the ‘Next Half Billion’, i.e., 500 million people in India, will become first- time internet users, connected via their mobile phones. There are two primary factors responsible for this. The first, is the rapid digital technology environment development in India (like high rates of mobile phone penetration and affordable internet data). Today, over 696 million adults in India have a mobile phone and around 400 million people use phones to connect to the internet. The second, is the country’s Aadhar digital identity system, where today, over 1.2 billion Indians are enrolled and can be digitally identified. Both these factors are combining to bring about digital inclusion to almost half the population of India by 2025, to those who would be previously excluded and unempowered by digital technology.
However, this ‘Next Half Billion’’s transition into the digital economy of India may see some challenges coming online, owing to factors like their varying levels of income, lower purchasing power, the digital infrastructure they will use and cultural elements like the languages that they will communicate in. The Next Half Billion are projected to not wholly be English speakers and have proven to find content and mobile services in local languages more reliable. This is crucial in the country’s digital- inclusion endeavor, as it will determine how the Next Half Billion will avail of government welfare schemes, keep informed by news and other such information and use digital platforms for their economic and social empowerment in the future. Thus, among many innovations needed to overcome other challenges, this blog wants to focus on innovations that aim to solve the issue of connecting non- English speaking Half Billion to the rest of the world.
Examples of innovations that use local Indian languages in digital inclusion are DailyHunt and Pratilipi. ‘DailyHunt’ is a digital news platform that enables readers to read news and books in 12 different local languages of India and similarly, Pratilip is a digital reading platform, where people can write and read and communicate in 12 different local languages of India. The Turn The Bus model also is cognizant of the need to innovate for the Next Half Billion and thus, creates quality educational content for school students in their local language. With this program model, we keep in mind the high school student population in the emerging Next Half Billion and aim to make digital education more inclusive in India now and in the near future. At present, we have been successful in deploying video educational content to high school graduating students (Class 12) in Bihar and are well on our way to expanding and including more students to equitably ride the wave of a new ‘digital India’.
The need to bridge the ‘digital- divide’ in India becomes more urgent with the coming of the Next Half Billion, as we at Turn The Bus humbly echo the crusade for innovations that make ‘digital India’ more inclusive for them.