The adoption of social distancing measures to contain the effects of the COVID-19 highlighted the potential role of digital technologies and Internet connectivity for the continuity of almost all daily activities such as remote education, telework, telemedicine, electronic commerce, and access to government’s services. Digital technologies have also proven crucial to supporting measures to cope with the pandemic and mitigating the effects of the sanitary crisis. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated existing inequalities in countries, especially in regions with high socioeconomic disparities such as Latin America. According to UNICEF (2021), in 2020, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean region were the most affected by full school closures (158 days) and tend to present lower proportions of households with Internet access.
Government organizations endeavored to adapt their policies overnight, including strategies to guarantee services in many sectors such as classes in public schools, healthcare services and programs to deal with the socioeconomic impacts of the measures adopted to ensure social distancing and restrict circulation. At the same time, low Internet connectivity and lack of digital skills affected online opportunities, indicating that appropriation of the potential benefits of the Internet is more limited among more vulnerable segments of the population (CGI.br, 2021).
Based on the multiple challenges to ensure public services delivery during the pandemic, the main objective of the session is to discuss how the Latin American countries adopted initiatives to minimize digital exclusion and provide digital services to their population. The round table session intends to gather initiatives, challenges, and best practices regarding the implementation of social policies in education, health, and emergency aid areas with technological support. In general, these areas are mostly related with vulnerable populations, who are also the most affected by digital exclusion. Among the topics to be discussed in this round table are the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic to guarantee access to online public services and how Latin American governments can increase digital inclusion in the region as well as access to government services, even in the post-pandemic world.
The session will be structured as an interactive one. The planned format is a plenary with short presentations from each expert followed by Q&A from the audience. The proposed schedule is presented below: