The digital divide – what is it and does it matter?
With New Zealanders connecting to the Internet to do everything from paying bills to staying in touch, and Google being the go-to for an answer to nearly everything, what does that mean for those who aren’t so comfortable online?
A study recently released by The Innovation Partnership, reports that people who don’t have the access or skills to use technology are less employable, have fewer opportunities to access online government, education, health or business services and miss opportunities to communicate with friends and family. The study found that while over 90% of New Zealanders use the Internet and five in of six of us spend at least 30 minutes online every day, Maori and Pacific Islanders, retirees and those in rural areas are more at risk of being digitally excluded.
The benefits of digital inclusion soon add up. Overseas studies suggest that the ability to shop online and research prices might save an average Kiwi household up to $1,000 a year. And if businesses made better use of Internet services, it could potentially lift our GDP by $34 billion.
A 2016 US study highlights the four factors essential for ensuring everyone can benefit:
- Providing low-cost broadband
- Connecting digital literacy training with relevant content and services
- Making low-cost computers available
- Operating easily accessible public computing centres
The Innovation Partnership study noted the great strides we’ve made as a country in making broadband available - 98% of New Zealanders now enjoy access to affordable broadband, with it costing less than 5% of our monthly income. That’s been facilitated through the ultra-fast broadband and rural broadband programmes which Chorus and other infrastructure developers are rolling out in partnership with the government.
But despite progress there is still work to be done to address the digital divide. The report highlights the challenge now is helping more New Zealanders to gain the skills and confidence to do more online and really benefit from the changes.
Schools are proving to be a successful springboard for educating students and their families. Through its Network for Learning programme the government is rolling out free, uncapped Internet connections for schools across the country. And non-profit Manaiakalani Trust is seeing great success through its education programme operating in 53 lower decile schools nationwide. Manaiakalani, which is recognised internationally as the most progressive educational innovation for low income learners in New Zealand, supports parents to buy a personal digital device for their child, provides wireless internet access at home and school and supports teachers with advanced digital tools and teaching methods. The programme has seen improved results at school and gives students better employment and life outcomes longer term. Chorus has joined with other organisations in providing financial support for Manaiakalani to take their successful programme to over 500 schools so all Kiwi students can access opportunities to succeed in a digital future.
But learning isn’t just for the kids, organisations such as SeniorNet offer courses on everything from using a computer to online security, supporting those over the age of 50 to navigate the new online world. And recipient of one of our Chorus GigCity grants, Hive Dunedin is seeing positive results through its connective learning initiatives for people of all ages. Public libraries, universities, technical institutes and community centres also offer online courses for those wanting to brush up on their online skills.
While national digital literacy offers individuals and their families access to essential services and increased employment opportunities, there are benefits for all of us. A population fully comfortable operating in a digital world is necessary to ensure New Zealand remains competitive globally too. And that matters to all of us.
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