In the last two years, Mongolia witnessed an unprecedented growth in its information technology sector. The total number of fixed internet users increased threefold from 300 thousand in 2019 to over 900 thousand in 2020 . The pertinent question is, does everybody have skills to benefit from this development? With this question in mind, UNDP Mongolia’s Accelerator Lab wanted to identify who has been left behind from these technological advancements. We conducted a qualitative assessment among vulnerable population groups such as low-income, migrants, remote and rural, senior citizens and people with disabilities to analyze their access to internet, and other digital technologies (more on the methodology of the assessment can be found here). Find below our key findings:
The digital divide is real
The availability of digital devices, such as desktop computers, laptops, and smartphones, and connection to secure and fast internet has become an important entry point for gaining digital skills. The study found that only 20% of the respondents have personal computers at home and, therefore, are likely to purchase a home internet connection. Nonetheless, 70% of the respondents are not connected to secure and fast internet.
Though the respondents acknowledged that computers and internet connection are essential tools for their children to continue studying at home during the pandemic, they simply cannot afford them. This income barrier was faced by low-income, rural, and migrant families, as well as people with disabilities. Home internet connection costs around MNT 25,000 (USD 8) monthly, but for many respondents, this cost is already too high. As a result, internet access is not a main priority for these households.
Interestingly, almost all respondents own smartphones and consider smartphone data plans as the most flexible and cost-effective option to connect to the internet.
“I know that internet provided by Univision or Ger internet (cellular home internet providers) are fast and reliable. When it comes to data, it sometimes freezes, and usage period is short. But it is affordable, though I also realize that cost can rise if I buy the data plans frequently” – Response from an interview
In most cases, families choose data and cellular connection as their main source of internet use at home dueto the lack of available cable connections and/or the high costs of other internet options. Respondents in rural and remote areas also cited problems with connections such as cellular network coverage, data speed, and stable service.
People with disabilities and seniors indicated that receiving government and other commercial services through websites and applications is not as easy as it seems. For instance, people with hearing loss pointed out that audio and video content usually does not have captions or transcripts, and that they need sign language to explain important information because the text is difficult to read. Seniors indicated that websites and applications have too many steps to follow, which confuse and distract them, and user guidelines are also not easy to understand.
Capacity building in digital skills is needed
In terms of actual digital skills, out of 5 areas of digital skills of the DigComp framework, all respondents demonstrated basic competency on 3 areas: communication and collaboration, digital content creation, and problem solving. Specifically, they could create basic content such as pictures and videos, sharing them with others, but they cannot edit, modify, improve them, and mix different media contents to create a new content. The weakest area for all respondents was protection of their devices and personal data, with many of them not able to change passwords, no knowledge of security and safety procedures, such as protection from cyber bullying and threats. Additionally, respondents are not familiar with strategies to identify reliable information sources online and the protection of intellectual property.
Overall, our assessment demonstrated that the respondents from all groups remain only basic users of information and communication technology. Although many responded that they feel comfortable using their smartphones, nearly all were unsure of their ability to work on computers and laptops. One significant find is that one’s digital skills improved the longer the respondent owned a digital device.
Respondents heavily rely on guidance and help from their children, siblings, and other close family members. Young people demonstrate more advanced levels of skills and deep interest in the digital space, but they are still not fully digitally literate. It is also noticeable that despite men being more open and positive to digital developments and services, their actual usage and participation in social networks is still low. Women use digital services the most and actively engage in social networks and, therefore, are more likely to encounter various negative experiences, which may lead them to having greater doubts and skepticism on digital services[EC1] .
Areas of further work
All groups expressed that they need to learn to fully operate their digital devices and perform more advanced tasks, to benefit from broad sources of information, and independently solve their problems with digital tasks. More specifically, it is essential for the web content to become more accessible to people with disabilities by rolling out specific standards for accessibility. For the public, it is advisable to apply Mongolian language settings to the devices as well as to translate useful resources to provide various types of trainings, aimed at improving digital skills of the various population groups.
At UNDP Accelerator labs, we hope to support the digital space to become more user friendly, offering easy access and navigation, and to provide different tools in partnership with government and civil society organizations to increase digital literacy for all. Lessening the digital divide is part of our commitment to help each individual and community to enjoy equal opportunities, leaving no one behind in the digital world.
Read Digital Skills Assessment Report in full: https://bit.ly/3BshlrV
 National Statistical Office, NUMBER OF INTERNET USERS AND COMPUTERS, by region, aimag, capital city, by year and quarter, https://bit.ly/2Wh62Ul