The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies and prompted innovations like work from home, online shopping for essentials, digital collaborations, and e-governance. During the pandemic, more than two third of the population 600 million in Southeast Asia were online and Internet economy came to a trajectory that would triple in value by 2025. Information and Communication Technologies hold the potential of level the playing field by bringing education, healthcare, and marketplace to everyone’s fingertips, eliminating the middleman in business, and long commutes to schools and hospitals. More than one-third of the customers explored a new online service due to this push towards digital adaption in COVID-19 pandemic.
Information and Communication Technologies are catalytic means to enable the achievement of SDGs, specifically Quality Education, Gender Equality, Industry Innovation and Infrastructure, and Partnership for the Goals for implementation. ICT infrastructure maturity has been thought to increase GDP growth significantly through Global Connectivity. However, a third of the 600 million Southeast Asian population were found to be lacking access to a functioning internet or a digital device. Stark digital divide emerged among income groups, rural and urban populations, formal and informal workers, and male and female populations.
The perils of people outside of the digital space exposed how inequality remained significant as technology progressed. The ASEAN government bodies should ensure proper implementation of the collaborative plans across member states to help ASEAN achieve sustainable progress in the whole region. ASEAN may consider establishing ICT governance committee across the region to cooperate in building a technological framework that will improve inclusivity and equality across these countries.
This paper will present theories, literature, and pre-COVID-19 practices that points towards digitalization enabling further economic and social inclusivity and contrast them with incidences, practices, and cases in Southeast Asia and beyond, where large proportions of people have been unable to participate in the newly emerged digital ecosystem due to their class, place of habitat, gender, and income level. The objective is to understand what the digital divide could mean for sustainable development goals like reduced inequalities, decent work & economic growth, quality education, gender equality, and good health and what could be the solutions moving forward into this decade.
The paper will reflect upon actions undertaken by the ASEAN region, both individually and collaboratively, to address new momentum of digital transformation due to COVID-19. This will help compare actions taken by government and ASEAN before COVID-19 that have helped them tackle this pandemic and analyze the new cracks exposed by the pandemic. This will help in future policies and regional collaborative plans by individual governments and ASEAN. Particularly the developing economies unable to afford the rising costs of internet connectivity, further widening the digital divide.