Technology to the Rescue of Disadvantaged Minorities

By Frank-Jürgen Richter

September 4, 2020

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the global economy. Unemployment levels have registered record highs, healthcare systems are overstretched and, in general, it is an event that will take extraordinary efforts to recover from. The pandemic has significantly impacted underserved communities, particularly minorities. This subset is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of instability, with high levels of unemployment and racial injustice. They are also faced with the risk of greater exposure to the virus.

Horasis is playing an integral part by organizing the ‘Horasis Extraordinary Meeting’ – a virtual event scheduled for 1 October 2020. There will be deliberations based on the hardships that several minority groups are facing and how these challenges can be mitigated to extend them a better chance at opportunities.

The primary reasons for certain minority or ethnic groups being more at risk include occupation, gaps in education, income and wealth, as also housing.

Occupation. There is disproportionate representation of certain minority groups in particular professions. These include essential services such as farms, public transit, agriculture, manufacturing units, fuel stations and grocery stores. These work settings imply higher risk of infection because they do not allow for remote working and also because many are not entitled to any paid sick leave. 

Gaps in education, income and wealth. The unequal access to quality education for certain minority groups result in a vicious cycle of sorts. Poor education affects school completion levels and then poses a barrier to securing acceptance into college or university. Consequently, this limits employment opportunities. Most often they will find employment in a less remunerative position – job roles that usually do not lend themselves to building up savings to serve as backup during uncertain periods such as now.

Housing. Minority groups subsisting on low wages stand an even higher risk of infection on account of the surroundings they may be forced to live in, given their economic standing. They will usually have to seek housing in crowded areas and this puts them at greater risk of infection. 

Reskilling is Imperative

What is evident beyond reasonable doubt is the fact that inequities in access to education casts a wide negative impact. Although educational institutions have been shut on account of the pandemic, learning has not come to a standstill. Across the world, online learning has received a huge fillip and in what is becoming increasingly accepted, it is imperative to reskill to find higher value employment in the virtual or technology sphere.

And this immediately begets the question – are physical educational institutions the only way to learn a skill that is higher paying? In fact, the ability to access quality education may have become much easier in the wake of the pandemic. However, the primary requisite is internet access and a device and in this regard, governments and private enterprise have done well to ensure higher internet penetration levels and offering more affordable devices. 

Furthermore, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is associated with fears of massive job losses, which some experts claimed to be unfounded. They vehemently opined that the 4IR will in effect add new jobs and is overall a net positive contributor for economies worldwide. Without new skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow, minority communities will continue to suffer in a major way. Although we do believe that the pandemic has accelerated the move from the 4IR to the Fifth Industrial Revolution (5IR), which places humans at the heart of everything – here too the challenge for minority communities to participate will remain unless we don’t address them now.

One essential skill that many are now encouraging for young adults is coding. Sound knowledge of coding alone can suffice in finding higher value employment and one that can even be worked remotely. In India, for instance, coding is being endorsed by edutech companies. WhiteHat Jr is one such enterprise that specializes in coding tutorials, in the process teaching learners how to build commercial ready games, animations, and apps. The idea is sure striking a chord with many young adults and also investors in the country because only recently, it was acquired by an even bigger edutech company for $300 million. Whitehat Jr was only two years old at the time of its acquisition. 

Technology the Great Leveler

The key priority area must feature education as its core objective for at risk minority groups. This endeavor alone can break the vicious cycle that so often comes to plague them. In emerging economies where disparities are wider, online learning platforms that focus on skills-based education are crucial. It is necessary for them to attend grade school, no doubt, but considering how they already have a less equal chance at accessing quality education, technology is the ideal medium to extend them a higher shot at opportunity.

Governments and private enterprise must share synergies, for only in doing so will disadvantaged minority communities be able to find themselves on solid footing. Traditional skills-based learnings such as carpentry, plumbing or welding too are going to witness disruption eventually. They are solid employment generating skills but knowledge of the technology space will ensure the ability to stand on a higher rung of the economic ladder.

Photo Caption: Two children play on the streets of New Delhi in India. The pandemic has significantly impacted underserved communities, particularly minorities. Photo by Atul Pandey on Unsplash.