The importance of bridging the digital divide for primary school children - Education Matters Magazine
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The importance of bridging the digital divide for primary school children

Sarah Davies, CEO of national children’s charity, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, discusses why all children must have access to digital literacy frameworks in order to bridge the digital divide.

So much of life nowadays happens online. Digital technologies bring many positive opportunities to children, and reforms to NAPLAN assessments will see Year 6 students being tested on digital literacy, if the school opts in.

But those children who can’t access high quality digital resources or information about how to use them safely may be excluded from basic educational and career opportunities and are also at risk of exploitation.

What is digital literacy and why is it important?

Digital literacy describes the set of skills and knowledge that students need to appropriately identify, select and use digital devices or systems. Knowing and understanding how to make the most of the technologies available to them, adapting to new ways of doing things as technologies evolve and protecting themselves and others safely in digital environments are essential skills for all our children.

Poor digital literacy levels can lead to significant disadvantage over a lifetime, with digital inclusion being critical for people to engage in education, employment and public life, as well as to access health, financial and community services.

Who is most at risk of exclusion?

Many of Australia’s most vulnerable children also have the lowest levels of digital literacy and digital inclusion. According to the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII):

  • Households with the most precarious access to technology and the lowest digital skills tend to be those which are already struggling with other barriers, such as low incomes, unemployment, disability, internet access through mobile phone data only, and education levels below Year 12. Indigenous Australians are particularly affected.
  • Major inequalities exist between capital cities and rural areas. The Australian regions with the lowest digital inclusion are all rural, including Murray and Murrumbidgee (New South Wales), North Victoria, North-West Queensland and Southern Tasmania.
  • There are 130,000 primary school children at public schools in the most digitally excluded parts of Australia who suffer disparities in resources.

In particular, the ADII notes that 800,000 school-aged children are growing up in families in the lowest income bracket, where digital inclusion scores are well below the national average.

A survey of nearly 2,000 Australian teachers found that four out of five teachers believed students’ access to educational technology was affected by their socio-economic circumstances.

Children need support in their ‘middle years’

The years between the ages of eight and 14 are hugely significant for children, encompassing the onset of puberty and the move from primary to secondary school.

The middle years are also a critical time for children’s digital literacy and wellbeing.

An ACMA report found that more than three-quarters of Australian children aged 12-13 owned the mobile phone they used, while one in six primary school children have their own social media account.

And with the advent of under-13 specific sites, such as the proposed Instagram for Kids, YouTube Kids and Messenger Kids, as well as six of every 10 kids playing games online, children are very much using digital technology to form social networks. 

COVID-19

The onset of COVID-19 saw a rapid transformation in the way our children learn. Lockdowns and remote learning are especially hard on families in the lowest income bracket, many of whom lack access to suitable devices and tech options, have fewer digital skills, and who pay more of their household income for digital services, compared to the rest of Australia.

New statistics from the Office of the eSafety Commissioner saw online risks continue to rise through the first half of 2021, even in the absence of extended lockdowns.

Complaints of serious cyber bullying against Australian children, for example, have been up by almost 30 per cent on the same period in 2020.

Reducing digital disadvantage

Building digital intelligence across all Australian society is an absolute must to keep our children safe from online harm.

Teaming up with international digital intelligence think tank, the DQ institute, and the Accenture Australia Foundation, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation is set to launch Digital Licence+, an education and training program aligned to the Australian curriculum which builds digital intelligence among 10 to14-year-olds.

A completely updated and reworked version of the eSmart Digital Licence, Digital Licence+ offers an exciting, gamified learning experience for students to explore an interactive story world to build digital intelligence.

Focusing on building the knowledge and skills of students across areas including technology use, cyber risk management and online security, Digital Licence+ supports the development of important social and emotional skills in the middle years and assists educators to cater for different learning levels.

A targeted rollout of the Digital Licence+ aims to address the digital divide in regions with low levels of digital inclusion. Across Australia,100,000 students from government and Catholic schools in regions that have a below average ADII rank will be offered free access in 2022. Visit www.esmart.org.au

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