Government inquiry into Digital Literacy welcomed

Laurence Millar, Chair of 2020Press Release: The 2020 Communications Trust has welcomed the opportunity to present its views to the select committee inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy. The deadline for submissions to the select committee is on Friday 11 May.

“Our Trust has been working for over 15 years to promote digital literacy,” said Laurence Millar, chair of the 2020 Trust. “So of course we are delighted to have the government turn its spotlight on this critically important aspect of our digital future, especially the issues around equity of access and digital inclusion.”

“Digital inclusion is a foundation for our economic and cultural future, and digital literacy and skills are critical for New Zealanders to create, access, use and share information and knowledge.” said Mr Millar.

The 2011 “ICT in Schools” survey, facilitated by the 2020 Trust, revealed that there is now an average of one computer for every three students with network access in most classrooms, but that many students do not have access to the internet from their homes, and this remains an on going concern in terms of providing equitable learning opportunities.

“The Government’s UFB and RBI initiatives will ensure students are able to take advantage of digital education while at school,” said Mr Millar. “But we believe that access to digital technologies in homes is just as important as having access in schools. It provides the opportunity to extend learning beyond the confines of the classroom, where students spend less than 20% of their time, to provide a true 24/7 learning environment.”

The 2020 Trust recognises the important role that parents, whanau and other caregivers play in supporting their children’s learning. In a digital world, parents need to be digitally literate just as much as their children. The 2020 Trust’s Computers in Homes programme, supported by the government’s Digital Literacy and Connection fund, has helped connect nearly 8000 families in the last 6 years, by providing a computer and internet connection as well as training and technical support.

“We think this is a good model where the computer and internet connection is provided to families after parents have attended 20 hours of training and have sufficient confidence to manage and make good use of the technologies, ” said Mr Millar.

All of these families come from the most digitally-disadvantaged regions and from the 721 schools in the lowest socio-economic areas (decile 1-3). 56% of the students in these schools are M?ori and 18% are Pasifika. Research by 2020 Trust into the impact of the programme on the future education and employment of participants is published at http://www.computersinhomes.org.nz/outcomes.

“Our Trust is committed to continuing to work with Government until this ‘digital divide’ is overcome and all families with school-aged children are digitally included”, said Mr Millar. “Digital inclusion goes beyond the physical computer hardware and broadband connections; parents must have the skills and confidence to use the technologies themselves, to support their children’s learning, as well as to enhance their own lives. This includes access to affordable training and ongoing technical support.”

Access to the internet must also be affordable. This is a special concern as low income families are increasingly replacing their fixed telephone lines with pre-pay mobile phones in order to save the fixed monthly outgoing of $40-50. In the 6 month period from July 2011 to December 2011, 63% of the 750 families that participated in Computers in Homes did not have a fixed telephone line. This creates a problem when families seek to connect to the internet, as they can no longer benefit from competitive DSL services offered over fixed lines. Families who cannot afford a fixed telephone line today will not be able to afford a UFB or RBI connection.

The 2020 Communications Trust is a registered not-for-profit charitable trust that was set up in 1996 by the Wellington City Council to promote digital literacy, initially for Wellington citizens but in the year 2000, extended to include all New Zealanders. Our vision is for all New Zealanders to be able to fully participate in a digital world. In order to achieve this vision, everyone needs the opportunity and the skills to become digitally literate.

Copies of our latest Computers in Homes and ICT in Schools reports can be downloaded from our website www.2020.org.nz

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More Information: Laurence Millar 021 441 461