I’m finally making my way through a report that’s been sitting on my desk for months, Bridging the Digital Divide: Creating opportunities for marginalised young people to get connected, available from VicHealth. What’s interesting about the report is that its findings in terms of ICT usage by marginalised young people largely support those of reports into other demographics. That is to say, marginalised young people (p. 2):
- Are confident in their ICT skills
- Use Instant Messaging, email and social networking services to communicate, and to maintain and build relationships
- Create profiles on social networking sites such as Bebo and Hi5
- Are aware of the potential dangers online and have ways of dealing with unwanted contact
Furthermore, in a finding that surprised the reports’ authors, the study showed that ICT plays a larger role in the lives of marginalised young people than previously thought. This surprise reflects a common assumption that I frequently come across when talking to both school and university teachers: that is, that ‘a good number’ of students have poor access to technology, or that a similar number are still on dial-up. Here are some results for the marginalised demographic:
- 97% of participants in the study had access to the Internet: 44% at home, 30% in a library, 18% at school and 10% each from an Internet cafe or at work (p. 19).
- 49% had broadband access, and 13% were on dial-up. 5% used wireless (p. 19).
- Over half of participants accessed the Internet at least a few times a week (p. 40)
- The young people involved in the study felt they had ICT skills of a high standard (p. 40)
This study reflects what Green and Hannon point out in Their Space: Education for a Digital Generation, that is tbat the new digital divide is more about access to knowledge, than it is about access to hardware (p. 17, pp 59-60). It’s knowing how to use these emerging technologies to best effect (in work and school and life) that’s going to be important from now on.