Almost three quarters of the adult population in Romania can be said to lack basic digital skills and, according to the latest Eurostat data, 30 percent of Romania’s citizens have never used the internet, according to INACO – the Competitiveness Initiative.
In the past year, only 16 percent of Romanians have acquired products online, compared to much higher rates in other EU states – 81 percent in Sweden, 50 percent in Spain or 32 percent in Greece. Romania is also among the countries with the lowest e-export rates (online sales outside the country) and is in last place in the ranking when it comes to connectivity, internet use, the digitalization of public services and integrating digital technology.
INACO representatives also note major shortcomings for the interaction between citizens and public administration through digital services. In 2015, only 9 percent of Romanians were using the internet to obtain public interest information regarding the functioning of state institutions and only 5 percent were downloading files such as documents and forms from public institutions.
“In order to understand the implications of digital division, we need to reflect on the social fragmentation the use of the internet leads to. The online environment is a catalyser of social relationships, of trade, education, the formation of civic identity and political ideology, or even of experimenting foreign cultures and planning touristic activities. The lack of digital involvement translates to economic, social and cultural marginalisation,” INACO’s statement reads.
At the same time, economically, the lack of such digital skills means it is impossible to enter, be active or excel in the work environment, to access professional development courses, to overcome obstacles in achieving entrepreneurial goals or transpose economic activities in the online world.
“We raise the principle of equality of opportunity for individuals, regions and the national economy overall compared to European citizens and other European states, so that we are not stuck in the past, in inertia, in the inter-generational passing on of inequality or the persistence of poverty risk factors. Culturally and socially, the lack of access or the lack of digital skills directly affects the attitudes and experiences of citizens or private companies. Digitally marginalised individuals are more likely to have stereotypical or anti-social attitudes; they have limited communication skills; they don’t have access to information that would allow them to come up with a personal, economic, political or cultural ideology and they generally tend to have fixed attitudes and traits,” according to INACO.
Companies that are digitally marginalized have lower development perspectives and are less likely to access more efficient technologies or start exporting products by internationalising their activity.
According to INACO, the causes of digital divisions are directly related to the lack of digital education in primary, secondary, high school and higher education.
In this context, Leyla-Denisa Obreja, a doctoral candidate in the Law School of Bond University in Australia and INACO member, said that Swedish students learn digital programming from their first year in school, while the Republic of Moldova has introduced digital education as a mandatory subject for first grade students starting in 2018.