Brussels, 15 March 2021

EaP CSF COVID-19 Policy Paper on Digital Literacy in Times of the Covid-19 in the EaP Countries

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of an exhaustive digital transition that prevents challenges such as digital divide, online security, and, especially, the lack of digital literacy. To tackle digital literacy in times of the COVID-19 pandemic in Eastern Partnership countries, this policy paper assesses the progress achieved to meet 2020 Targets on digital skills, and evaluates media space and the spread of disinformation across the region.

The imposed governmental restrictions related to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic shifted a series of activities to the digital environment. Hence, digital literacy turned out to be the key to the effective continuation of online education and teleworking, especially, in the EaP region where some people lacked essential access to Information Communications Technologies (ICT). This policy paper examines the prevalence of digital literacy across the EaP region, assessing the good and bad practices of the EaP states on countering the effects of the COVID-19 and draws parallels with the world’s best practices. Finally, the analysis leads to actionable policy recommendations addressed to the EaP governments and the EU.

The 20 Deliverables for 2020, likewise, the implementation of EU programmes such as EaPConnect, EU4Digital and EU4Youth brought tangible results in improving connectivity, digital literacy and youth employability. Yet, deliverables on digital skills, are still a work in progress, which indicates that 2020 Targets on e-skills and cybersecurity were perhaps too ambitious for the EaP countries. Moreover, there is some noticeable progress observed in the diversity of the media spaces in the EaP region, however, mass media still remain highly polarised and partisan in most of the EaP countries, especially in Belarus and Azerbaijan. Furthermore, disinformation about COVID-19 has been spreading fast across the region, where a large amount of the population, especially the elderly, people with lower-level education and the ones living in the rural area, struggled to spot fake narratives.

To tackle the challenges related to digital literacy, EaP governments should give priority to improving ICT infrastructure in all EaP countries, particularly in the rural and remote areas and conflict regions, and devote funds to providing laptops and internet donations to the most affected groups. Furthermore, the EaP governments should put more efforts to increase people’s digital literacy by providing systemic online training to the groups with the lowest digital literacy, likewise, by creating information campaigns to tackle disinformation. Moreover, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova are advised to establish dedicated ministries of digital transformation and, also, collaborate with the private sector and international donor. EU, on the other hand, should accelerate the progress on deliverables on digital skills and enhance the cooperation between the EU and the cyber bodies of the EaP countries. Moreover, the EU should continue to support its Eastern Neighbours in developing common methodologies to collect and measure digital indicators and continue programmes on digital skills and youth.

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EaP CSF COVID-19 Policy Paper on Digital Literacy in the EaP region