Poverty was one of the big issues in the 2017 New Zealand election.
The Digital Divide Map, a joint project with our strategic partner Internet NZ, shows that there is a strong correlation between social well-being and digital inclusion (measured by access to the internet and digital skills).
In 2014, we presented an investment plan to government that would enable every school-age child to have access to an internet connection from their home within five years. The investment was not made, and it is disappointing to report that, three years later, there are still up to 120,000 schoolchildren in year 4 and above that are not connected at home. This drives a huge wedge into New Zealand society, the effect of which will impact upon education, employability and social deprivation for generations.
A unique stepping stone out of poverty
Our research has shown that digital skills provide a unique stepping stone to escape from poverty by reducing daily costs, improving employment and earning capacity. Overseas studies have shown that the direct cost of not being online is NZ$1,000 per year. Finding a job without a digital connection and resume is increasingly rare, and digital skills are essential in most jobs. In 2016/17, we are proud that 21% of participants in our digital literacy programmes secured a job within 12 months of graduation.
Evidence did not stop funding cut for Computers in Homes
Evidence showing the value of investment in digital skills continues to mount, but was not sufficient to save our flagship programme Computers in Homes, which has supported almost 19,000 families throughout New Zealand to develop digital skills and connectivity over the last 17 years. The government advised us that the Computers in Homes (CiH) programme, which provided more than 70% of our income, would not receive any new funding after June 2017.
(Editor’s note: Since this report was presented the Labour/NZ First Coalition Agreement restored funding for Computers in Homes)
As a result, we have scaled back our national delivery network of community-based digital champions by offering reduced working hours for team members. In addition, we are not able to continue funding our delivery partners. During this change, we have bid “farewell” to many local coordinators that have been working with the Computers in Homes programme for many years. Their departure marks the end of an era, and I wish each of them well for the future. We also disestablished the position of Executive Director as part of overhead reductions, and reduced other national costs, and I would like to thank Stephen Carr for his contribution during the year. In taking these steps, our aim is to maintain our network so that we are able to respond to future digital inclusion challenges and opportunities.
I would like to express my appreciation of the work of our Trustees and Team Members for their support and commitment during the difficult transition we have had to make this year.
Growth of other programmes
It has been exciting to see the growth of our other programmes, with both KiwiSkills and Stepping UP increasing their delivery networks and participants. We also worked with Spark Foundation to launch the Spark Jump pre-pay internet service for families with school-aged children. The opportunity to access the internet from $10 per month is proving very popular with families who cannot afford monthly ‘on account’ services.
Family Connect pilots in Auckland
Looking ahead, we will continue to seek funding for programmes that increase digital inclusion in all digitally disadvantaged communities; we are pleased to have support from the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) for a pilot of a Family Connect programme in Auckland, which includes an individual learning plan for participants. Creating Family Connect has confirmed that the three core components for digital inclusion developed for the CiH programme – access to a device, internet connection and skills/confidence building – can be used to assemble programmes that meet the specific needs of funders.
Digital Inclusion Manifesto released
We released the Digital Inclusion Manifesto during the 2017 election campaign with support from more than twenty community and technology organisations. I am grateful for the support of these organisations, who share our view that all New Zealanders should have “affordable access to the internet and the skills and confidence to use digital technologies for learning, for work and for life”.
Eight goals for inclusion
The Manifesto contains eight goals for digital inclusion, and calls on government to prioritise digital inclusion and skills as a core element of all its programmes – for education, for employment, for business, for health and for every aspect of New Zealanders’ lives. We look forward to a dialogue with the incoming government on how New Zealand can achieve full digital inclusion.
Financial: Small surplus for year, Equity up 16%, Overhead and Administration spend down 7.6%
Computers in Homes & Refugee programmes: 1,805 families graduated last year; programme total 18,695
Stepping UP: now 65 partner libraries and community technology centres nationwide
KiwiSkills: 2,500 registrations, 58 delivery partners, programme total 5,032 candidates