Updated: Sep 23, 2020
With each day, technology continues to integrate itself within some aspect of our lives. Previously, Australians may have only accessed the internet to complete small errands such as online banking and shopping. In contrast, almost all essential services today have transitioned online to facilitate ease of access and save valuable time. The internet has also given us seemingly unlimited platforms for communication, information and entertainment, which has become more relevant than ever given the current pandemic that has kept the global population locked up at home.
While millions of Australians have reaped the many benefits of digital internet access since its inception in 1989, there is still a large proportion of the population that has not had the same luck.
This gap is known as the “digital divide”. Government policies and social projects over the past two decades have been chipping away at the digital divide, which follows clear economic, social and geographic contours. This is evidenced by the fact that people with lower levels of income, education, employment as well as those who live in regional areas, face a higher risk of digital exclusion. As a result, much of the Indigenous population has been significantly hindered by these barriers to access, as identified in a yearly report titled the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII).
The 2019 ADII report released a plethora of statistics in relation to rates of digital inclusion across the nation. Whether an individual was categorised as digitally included depended on ratings provided for three main criteria: access, affordability and digital ability. A digital inclusion index averages these three ratings and is conferred upon each category of measure. With an index score of 54.4, the Indigenous population fell almost 6 points below the national average. The Indigenous population was below average across all three rating systems, with the largest gap coming in affordability by a total of 7.9 points. This has been attributed to the prevalent use of mobile amongst the Indigenous population, with mobile data costs being significantly more expensive per gigabyte than fixed broadband.
The adoption of mobile only data plans strongly suggests that Indigenous households are not connecting to the internet through a computer or laptop, the likely cause is that Indigenous households lack the disposable income to spend on these devices as their 2019 median weekly income is 33% less than non-Indigenous households. This could account for the digital ability score for Indigenous Australians which was 6.4 points below the national average, because it is more difficult to improve digital literacy whilst only using a cellular device. Therefore, it is clear that unfavourable socioeconomic outcomes have created a dangerous cycle of digital exclusion for Indigenous Australians and the educational future of their youth.
If children are not staying in touch with technology, this can negatively impact their educational outcomes. Living in a digital age, it is vital that children are constantly improving their digital literacy skills from a young age so they can improve their higher education outcomes. The following are some key negative effects to a child’s education that can occur if digital literacy is not learnt during their youth.
Children living in low-income households can become seriously disengaged when they are unable to participate with their counterparts in various schooling activities. The internet provides a plethora of educational and social experiences such as educational tools and entertainment and if these cannot be accessed, it can limit a child's ability to learn and interact with other children. Additionally, hard book materials such as textbooks, novels, dictionaries can be much more costly than their online counterparts, and low-income earning households may struggle to accommodate for these materials.
Inability To Distance Educate
Full time distance education is a great option for youth who may have learning difficulties or need to learn at a slower pace to regular public schools, and many of these courses can only be accessed online. Digital access ensures that children can complete a top-quality education from inside their own home. Receiving an education this way was demonstrated during the COVID-19 restrictions that led to schools sending children home so they could participate in their schooling through video conferencing and completing homework through online programs. Children without internet access would be unable to do so, and in poorer regions internet cafés and libraries are not often available.
So What Does This Have To Do With Moree?
According to the 2016 Census, Moree residents recorded a 66% internet access rate which was almost 20% less than the national average. This, in combination with the inability to use technologies such as computers and tablets on a regular basis, can significantly hinder a child’s potential to excel in a digital economy. Maximising digital inclusion amongst the Indigenous population will encourage youth to pursue further tertiary education. Having digital literacy skills at university is essential to success and if these can be taught from a young age, children will have no issues transitioning into these institutions so they can achieve higher qualifications that can bring them a bright and prosperous future.
Nhuubala Yugal Education Centre in Moree ensures that students stay connected through regular laptop use to complete various educational activities. By keeping kids connected, it ensures that digital literacy can be maintained and slowly improved so that students can feel encouraged to pursue opportunities that may require computer skills and knowledge. If you’d like to support our mission you can do so by donating here. All contributions play a big part in allowing us to reach more students and empower rural education.
By Ashan Wijesinghe