French people receive digital training. (Photo: Emmaüs Connect)
Paris (People's Daily) — At a time when France is accelerating toward a goal of offering all of its public services online, some 13 million people rarely or never use the Internet in France, according to a study conducted by the Digital Agency of France, the French newspaper Le Monde reported recently,
People are feeling uncomfortable with the development of digital technology. “The problem is that everything goes through the Internet. Those who are excluded from the Internet are excluded from society,” a French netizen commented online. Among those being left out of the digital world are job seekers, the less educated, vulnerable families and many older people.
The stakes are deemed major, especially since the French government has set the target of dematerializing 100 percent of its public services by 2022.
A national strategy of digital inclusion was launched in December 2017 by the government in response to a promise made by President Emmanuel Macron during the election campaign.
Banking, paying tax, going to work, making medical appointments, and other tasks are all becoming web services over the next few years. But there is still no budget for digital training, a situation that has been roundly criticized.
Some people complain that with the dematerialization of all services, there will be no more human contact. People who lose jobs and all those who do not know how to use the Internet will find themselves “eliminated in all competitions” unless supporting places are opened in all France.
“Dematerialization aggravates digital exclusion. That’s a real risk that needs to be considered seriously,” warned Jean Deydier, director of Emmaus Connect, an association that supports people in digital difficulties.
In this context, French post office La Poste plans, for example, to set up a service for remote income declaration. In Paris, many people go to EPNs, public digital centers that offer help by offering digital training courses.
Though some dematerialized public services have put in place real-world brick and mortar support systems, the efforts remain “insufficient to cover all needs,” said Deydier. People are lining up in front of the limited number of service windows, but the staff lack manpower to face such a massive influx.
Experts say the challenge is for all stakeholders to coordinate and put resources in place to train people so that they can catch up with the rest of the society. The task is to grant people who are digitally excluded access to their rights, to employment and to government services.