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Scholars Map Kuwait’s Digital Inequalities as a Prelude to Digital Transformation

/ 03 Jun 2022

Scholars Map Kuwait’s Digital Inequalities as a Prelude to Digital Transformation

A new study by scholars from a Kuwaiti and a British university has produced a statistical portrait of Kuwait’s digital inequalities that could be useful to policy makers guiding the country’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.

Their report, titled “Kuwait’s Digital Inequalities Report 2022”, presents the findings of a national survey of adults that was conducted in Kuwait from October 2020 to February 2021 by researchers from the Gulf University for Science and Technology, in Kuwait, and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The survey collected data about the availability and impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across different demographic segments of Kuwaiti society. Its findings provide insight into which communities are benefiting most from these technologies and which are being left behind.

Policy Implications

“By ensuring more equitable access, skills development, and the achievement of tangible outcomes that benefit diverse … communities, Kuwait can further bolster the positive dividends of society’s digital transformation.”

Fahed Al-Sumait   An assistant professor of communication at the Gulf University for Science and Technology

The report notes that the effective integration of ICTs will be fundamental to Kuwait’s quest to transition from an oil-based economy to a knowledge-based one.

Fahed Al-Sumait, an assistant professor of communication at the Gulf University for Science and Technology, is one of the report’s authors. He wrote to Al-Fanar Media: “By ensuring more equitable access, skills development, and the achievement of tangible outcomes that benefit diverse (local and expatriate) communities, Kuwait can further bolster the positive dividends of society’s digital transformation.”

In a foreword to the report, Francisco H.G. Ferreira, a professor of inequality studies at the London School of Economics, said that the report is an important contribution for policy makers in Kuwait.

He added: “Its careful analysis is particularly necessary for a country as demographically diverse as Kuwait, where almost two-thirds of the population are immigrants and where gender inequalities have long been a source of concern.”

Covid-19 Accelerated Change 

The Covid-19 pandemic and its resultant lockdowns magnified the vital role of information and communication technologies and accelerated societies’ reliance on them, says the report.

However, the benefits of these technologies are not equally distributed between or within countries.

Kuwait occupies a privileged position in terms of the availability of digital technologies, the report says. However, an accurate picture of how well the benefits of those technologies are distributed across Kuwaiti society has been obscured by limitations in the existing data. The survey sought to fill some of those gaps.

Near-Universal Access

Internet access and smartphone ownership are nearly universal in Kuwait, the survey found. However, for the lowest-educated respondents, as well as sizable portions of the Asian expatriate community, their smartphone is their only form of access to digital technologies.

The lowest-educated group also uses public Wi-Fi hotspots least and has access to the fewest Internet-connected devices, limiting the outcomes they can achieve.

Unlike the situation in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the survey found that women in Kuwait do not experience a significant gender gap in access to digital technologies. In fact, on average, women showed higher levels of personal Internet use, owned more devices, and produced better work-related results with ICTs than men.

Women scored lower than men, however, in several ICT-related skills. Men reported higher operational, information navigation, and content creation capabilities. Still, women fared slightly better than their male counterparts in online social skills.

As expected, the youngest respondents (ages 19 to 25) had more device access than any other age group. Retired residents had the lowest percentage of smartphone ownership, which was still high, at 94 percent. All other populations were either close to or at 100 percent, said the report.

Divides by Education and Origin

“Careful analysis [of the report] is particularly necessary for a country as demographically diverse as Kuwait, where almost two-thirds of the population are immigrants and where gender inequalities have long been a source of concern.”

Francisco H.G. Ferreira   A professor of inequality studies at the London School of Economics

Unsurprisingly, the survey found that educational attainment was related to ICT inequality.

Three-quarters of people residing in Kuwait have no more than a high school education, the report said, citing Kuwaiti government statistics. For them, issues relating to access, skills, and outcomes pose serious obstacles to digital equality, it said.

By place of origin, Kuwaitis reported the highest digital social skills (35%) and Filipino expatriates the lowest (28%). Other groups and the share of them reporting confidence in their digital social skills were Indians (33%), other Asian expatriates (32%), and Arab expatriates (30%).

Kuwait’s status as an expatriate-majority state carries both benefits and challenges that are of relevance to socio-digital development.

The benefits include the availability of diverse, abroad-trained skillsets, technological competencies, and an almost universal digital marketplace created by the high demand for information and communication technologies.

The challenges include a lack of incentives for labour-based competition among locals, economic marginalisation of expatriate communities, lower overall levels of education, and language and cultural barriers that complicate both the social distribution of digital outcomes as well as the ability to measure them effectively.

Motives and Barriers

Information-seeking was the primary reason people gave when asked what they used digital technologies for. Other motives were to stay connected with others, to seek entertainment, for occupational use, and to share original content.

Women were more likely than men to use ICTs for study or work, though their satisfaction with the associated outcomes in this area were lower.

The study also highlighted a few negative barriers to using ICTs. Men (76%) were more concerned than women that technologies contributed to declining social relations, while women were significantly more likely to express concerns about online harassment and bullying.

Recommendations

To address negative motivators, the study recommends promoting a balance between online and offline activities through media-literacy training in schools and creating a regulatory environment that protects those most vulnerable to online dangers.

This regulatory environment should be aligned with global best practices for data protection, privacy, and cybersecurity, it says.

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To improve access conditions for the most marginalised communities, the report recommends providing more diverse opportunities for public access, in terms of both Internet connectivity and device availability.

It also calls for initiatives focused on media literacy education, ICT skills, and content creation training, especially for older populations and those with the lowest education levels.

It also recommends greater involvement of women and expatriates in the planning and design of ICT services, platforms, and content to better ensure that their needs are being adequately addressed.

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Copyright © 2018 Al-Fanar Mediaحقوق © 2018 الفنار للإعلام