The Digital Divide Makes its Presence Felt in Australia

In recently released research, the Good Things Foundation discovered that the most at-risk groups for digital exclusion in Australia are:

  • First Nations people: In remote First Nations communities, 30% of people have no household internet or phone connection.
  • Rural and remote Australians: Even with the roll-out of the NBN, only one third of Australia’s land area has mobile connectivity. This is despite regional and remote areas making up 30% of the Australian population.
  • Low-income households and those with a mobile-only data connection: Half of low-income households had difficulty paying for home internet. Meanwhile, one third of those with a mobile-data only connection are low-income families with school-aged children.
  • Women: Low digital literacy means women are more vulnerable to online abuse.
  • New CALD migrants and refugees: Low digital skills and access are a barrier to accessing services during the pandemic and job opportunities more broadly.
  • People with disabilities: People with disabilities are lower users of digital and social media and are more likely to experience cyberbullying and digital abuse.
  • Those over 65 years of age: 80% find it difficult to keep up with tech changes.
  • People outside of the labour force: Confidence in digital skills decreases as length of retirement increases.
  • People with low levels of education: 44% have no media literacy support.

Australian adult and community education (ACE) providers specialise in reaching vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians. “It is not a coincidence that the digitally excluded groups identified by the Good Things Foundation are also those groups which ACE providers specialise in reaching, according to our annual reports on vulnerable and disadvantaged students,” said CCA CEO, Dr Don Perlgut. – Read the most recent CCA report (September 2020).

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Foundation’s latest report analyses the pandemic’s impact:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly highlighted the digital divide in Australia. With social distancing policies enacted across the country, the pandemic showed more than ever the need for people to have basic digital skills and affordable access to technology. Before the pandemic, many Australians relied on the internet for some important activities in their lives, such as online banking, work emails, online education and entertainment. But, in a very short period of time,a more extensive range of activities has had to move online, from ordering essentials to online remote working, learning and medical consultations.

“While the full impact of the pandemic on the Australian digital divide is not yet fully evident in digital inclusion research, it is clear that this rapid digitisation means that affordable digital access and digital skills are paramount to thrive in today’s society. The OECD has stated that bridging the digital divide and delivering inclusive digital transformation is critical to ensure everyone equally benefits from the digital economy and are resilient for the post COVID-19 future.”

Lockdowns Highlight Digital Divide Amongst Australians

Jess Wilson, CEO of Good Things Foundation Australia said: “Those who are digitally excluded are less able to fully participate in work, education and stay connected with loved ones online – all of which are even more important right now.

“Lockdowns have pushed everything online, and whilst that might be convenient for the majority of Australians who are digitally included, it’s posing huge challenges to some of our most vulnerable people. The simple act of scanning a QR code to enter a store can be a stressful process for many, not to mention the difficulties remote-learning is presenting to those who lack digital access and skills.”

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