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Forced switch to online learning ‘reveals widening digital divide’

Image: Nelson Minar [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Pandemic highlights the need for policies to boost digital inclusion among low-income families, says researcher

Australia’s rapidly growing digital inequality has been revealed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the focus on online learning by schools and universities, according to a Queensland University of Technology researcher.

Michael Dezuanni, associate director of the university’s digital media research centre, says there is a “growing gap” in digital inclusion that affects more than three million Australians living in poverty.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has really highlighted the digital divide that exists in Australia, especially with the temporary closure of schools and universities switching to online learning,” he said in a university statement.

Earlier this year, a report by the Australian Council of Social Service found that the need for internet access had become a financial burden for low-income families.

Dezuanni is the lead researcher with a QUT project on digital inclusion and low-income families that recently received a $620,765 grant from the Australian Research Council. He has published a number of research papers on digital literacy and co-edited a book on digital learning and gaming.

“Digital participation has been shown to substantially increase opportunities for, and pathways to, civic engagement, financial stability and wellbeing,” he said.

“Our project focuses on the digital inclusion implications of children’s home and school learning experiences, school leavers’ transitions into work, and parenting in digital times.”

He said the project would look at the complex relationship between digital and social inclusion, and the role of social infrastructure “such as education facilities, charities and government services in supporting low-income families in this area”.

Dezuanni said a federal government report in 2018 had stated that all Australians needed access to digital technologies and “the skills required to use them if they’re to fully take part in social and economic life”.

“Ideally, the project will help develop new practices, policies and sector-wide solutions…The project’s findings will also strongly position the Australian charity sector to develop policy, programmes and capacity-building activities to empower families at the community level to participate in the digital economy.”