ALNF and World Vision Australia call on Australia to close the Digital Divide

Today on National Close the Gap Day, the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) and World Vision Australia have released a joint report finding that one in four First Nations households has no internet access. This prevalent and widespread “Digital Divide” is limiting learning opportunities for Indigenous students.

Despite being the 16th year since ALNF’s Co-Chair, Professor Tom Calma, first called on Australian governments to Close the Gap, the ongoing inequalities between First Nations and non-First Nations peoples continue to persist.

The report Connecting on Country: Closing The Digital Divide for First Nations Students In The Age of COVID-19 has found that the unjust Digital Divide in Australia today between First Nations and non-First Nations communities has only served to widen these gaps further.

With First Nations students four times more likely to have no internet at home, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and deepened these long-existing disadvantages in digital access and learning. School closures have meant that many First Nations students have not been able to access the learning materials, teaching and support that their class peers could access online, setting Australia back years in the progress made towards targets on educational equality.

The report also found that First Nations homes relied more heavily on costly, inefficient mobile data for internet access (37 per cent) compared with the general population (21 per cent), meaning First Nations households are spending a greater portion of their household income on internet access than non- First Nations families, exposing them to further financial strain.

In terms of both digital access and affordability, the report found the gaps between First Nations and non-First Nations families are only getting wider.

ALNF Co-Founder, Co-Chair and Executive Director, Mary-Ruth Mendel, said: “Online learning is a key feature of modern education but this report highlights the unacceptable fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have less educational opportunities due to inequitable access to technology and the internet”.

“Online learning is here to stay. Currently in Australia 1 in 4 First Nation households do not have internet access at home. Don’t think that this applies to remote Australia only – it includes city families, regional and remote families too. This report highlights educational inequity where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have the greatest online disadvantage. The Digital Divide compounds the Educational Divide”.

Despite these figures, ALNF believes that this moment in history can be the turning point. As a nation, we can use this crisis as the long-needed trigger to boldly reshape the way we educate our children.

ALNF and World Vision Australia have called on the Australian Government to lead efforts to close the Digital Divide through a number of key actions including:

  • Developing a First Nations Digital Inclusion Strategy, in consultation with First Nations communities and Aboriginal education consultative groups
  • Prioritising First Nations communities in the rollout of the Mobile Black Spot Program to improve mobile phone coverage in remote Australia
  • Including a dedicated target on Closing the Digital Divide in the Closing the Gap agreement
  • Exploring public-private partnerships to close the Digital Divide by increasing the affordability and access of going online for First Nations students
  • Funding research into the impact of the Digital Divide on the education of First Nations students to inform further policy solutions and resourcing decisions

Professor Calma supports the report’s recommendations and reinforced that “advancements in technology and digital distribution of reading and learning resources are welcomed, but when not backed up with a comprehensive implementation strategy to close the Digital Divide, the gap in Indigenous educational equality will widen”.

“Digital delivery and access are key determinants of both education and health and non-access is significantly and detrimentally impacting on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – irrespective of where they live”.

Author of the report and World Vision’s First Nations senior policy advisor, Dr. Scott Winch, said: “Addressing the Digital Divide should not be a question of ‘if’ but ‘how fast’. In 2021, online access and digital inclusion are a necessity for all Australian students, not a luxury. It’s imperative that First Nations students can access the same resources and education opportunities as other Australian students who take access to equipment and internet connections for granted.”

Education is a human right, one to which all Australian children are entitled regardless of socio-economic status, race or location.

Read the full report here.


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