Male Iron Rat Year
The year of rat showed how important ICT can be in times of uncertainty and change. For a nation driving towards a digital era, the pandemic situation helped gain momentum for a smooth transition. Life for many was online during the pandemic period.
While much of IT infrastructure development is underway, Bhutanese have taken advantage of the modern technologies in the year.
Learning and working
The pandemic shifted face-to-face learning to remote and online learning. Following the government’s directives to close all schools and educational institutions, colleges started online learning, and the education ministry began an initiative to educate children through television. Students were encouraged to use Google Classrooms, and other social media platforms to learn while they were away from the schools.
The rat year saw the two telecom operators in the country introduce student data plans. The data plans enabled students to access Google Classrooms, YouTube, G-Suit, Moodle, E-Library, B-Trowa and Zoom. However, many students found the data plans of little use.
Phones became a basic necessity. The mobile shops in the country were out of smartphones and there was a rising demand for other options.
Online learning brought to picture the digital divide present in the country. There were students facing challenges to get access to a decent internet connection or some did not have smartphones and television at homes. This created unfair competition between those who had access to technologies and those who did not.
The lack of digital literacy was evident in the country as many went online. The risk of cyberbullying grew as students were spending more time on the internet. The year saw the importance of educating the people on opportunities and risks associated with technologies and their benefits.
Covid-19 brought changes in work style and discipline. Most Bhutanese in the rat year decided to work from home to prevent the spread of the virus. The year saw the judiciary embracing technology for public benefit.
With travel restrictions and health protocols in place, virtual conferences were held. Training and workshops were shifted online. More than ever, technology helped to share ideas and knowledge and connected people from all walks of life online.
But working from home came with challenges for many. Poor internet connectivity was a major issue that impeded smooth working and learning.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced India’s preparations to launch a Bhutanese satellite into space and provide a third international internet gateway for Bhutan. The establishment of the third gateway would ensure uninterrupted internet connectivity and improve the quality of essential services in education, health, banking and other services that have moved online.
Space and e-commerce
To bring the country’s focus on space science and technology, the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT) launched Bhutan Space Week. Bhutan-1, the country’s first satellite reached the earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated over South America in November.
The pandemic created a massive demand for e-commerce and online shopping platforms in the year. With health advisories encouraging physical distancing, consumer behaviour was forced to change, people are changing the online world through what they are buying, when, and how.
The year also experienced a significant jump in the digital payment transactions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Public service delivery systems
The rat year saw the development of many online systems to ease public service delivery and address the risks posed by the pandemic. This development delayed the government’s pledge on the Suung Joen app and providing free WiFi access.
The information and communications ministry developed the Gate Management System, Health Facility System, Druk Trace App, Quarantine Management App, Check Post Management System, Essential Goods Stock Piling system, Vegetable marketing Information System and Essential Commodity Ordering system, among others.
The Digital Drukyul project was underway without disruptions. The ministry reviewed the census and immigration data for the National Digital identity. Detail technical assessment for Electronic Patient Information System (e-PIS) and the development for release (Good and Services Tax and Excise modules) happened for Bhutan Integrated Tax System.
The Department of National Properties (DNP) launched the second phase of the electronic government procurement (e-GP) with added enhancements and features to the online portal.
To maintain uniform land mortgage data with financial institutions, the National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS) launched an online land mortgage system; Tsamdro, a mobile app that helps the highlanders of Merak and Sakteng survey their tsamdro or pastureland themselves.
Not only limited to working, learning and commerce, the rat year saw the first virtual lucky draw during the national day by scanning two Quick Response code displayed on television at two different times.
Bhutan in the year of rat advanced from the medium E-government Development Index (EGDI) in 2018 to a high-level EGDI group. Bhutan was ranked 103 among the UN member states. Bhutan was listed as one of the leaders in digital government development among the 47 least-development countries.
The pandemic showed that technologies provide endless opportunities to create an efficient society.