First nations students face digital divide from COVID-19 - Education Matters Magazine
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First nations students face digital divide from COVID-19

First nations households are suffering a large digital divide with the rest of Australia, following a new report released on Closing the Gap Day showed one in four first nations households had no internet access, limiting learning opportunities for Indigenous students.

The report, led by World Vision Australia and the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF), found that 37 per cent of first nations homes relied more heavily on costly, inefficient mobile data for internet access compared with the general population (21 per cent).

As a result, first nations households are spending a greater slice of their household income on internet access than non-first nations families.

Report author and World Vision’s first nations policy advisor Scott Winch said the findings confirmed the educational disadvantage for first nations students fuelled by poorer digital access – a problem that had only grown worse during the COVID-induced school closures.

“There has been a great disparity in online education access for First Nations students for a long time,” Winch said.

“Educational outcomes for Indigenous students are already lagging the broader population, with only Year 9 numeracy on track in most states, and Indigenous children are twice as likely to be developmentally vulnerable.

“COVID-19 has accelerated reliance on the internet across almost every area of life, including in education, which makes it more important than ever to urgently close the digital divide for first nations students. Every first nations child should have the opportunity to learn and continue their education online.”

Winch further explained that online access and digital inclusion are necessary for all Australian students, not just a luxury in 2021.

Professor Tom Calma, co-chair of the ALNF, 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,” he said.

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