“Digital poverty means overall poverty becomes more amplified and deepens its impact.”
There’s no doubt the age of online learning has accelerated due to lockdown measures in place due to Covid-19. It’s not just the schools, colleges and Universities that have had to adapt to virtual delivery, us smaller, community based providers are in the same boat too.
Adapting to new environments is the norm for us – we’re always working with communities or individuals with diverse challenges and histories. We rarely produce the same piece of work twice, each contract or commission requires a new approach, bespoke to the topic, the audience and the funder.
With access to the right technology and a strong internet connection, we embraced the challenges and opportunities alike.
The upside of lockdown has meant that rather than going out and delivering face-to-face across South and South West Wales, we were commissioned by providers to deliver virtually in a way that brought people together from all over the UK.
Delivering sessions in virtual rooms full of people sat in their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens in Scotland, England and Wales at the same time is our ‘new normal’. It exposes our learners to even more diversity and new connections. Win, win.
But it hasn’t escaped our observations during the pandemic that those sat in our virtual rooms are those privileged enough to have access to the right technology and a decent internet access.
What does the internet bring you? During the initial stages of the pandemic I undertook some personal learning, turned to YouTube to try and fix my breadmaker, did some ‘Dog First Aid Training’, had time to compare home insurance quotes and changed provider, took online exercise classes, cried over videos of rescue dogs and people out in their masses clapping for carers, watched the daily virus updates and set up Zoom calls with friends and family. It also meant I could get on with my job. All because of the privilege of technology and internet access.
Many years ago when I was training to become a volunteer debt & benefit adviser, we were on the cusp of the shift of ‘internet access’ moving from ‘luxury’ to ‘essential’.
The arguments were strong, even then.
Internet access is needed for looking for employment, because all the jobs are advertised online now. You’re able to find better insurance deals if you can compare them online, you can access key services and compare prices at different supermarkets to bring the cost of your food shopping down. You can find the nearest food bank and community mental health services too. Digital poverty means overall poverty becomes more amplified and deepens its impact.
Digital Poverty is big in the UK. The Good Things Foundation estimate that 11.3 million people in the UK don’t have the basic digital skills they need to thrive in today’s world.
They also highlight that many people are on ‘pay as you go’ contracts, and may not have been able to afford to increase their digital consumption during lockdown. The closure of our libraries would have exacerbated that.
That combined impact of low digital literacy and lack of access to the right equipment and internet access is increasing digital poverty across the UK.
The internet has become such a central part of our lives, it will continue to increase social exclusion to those without it.
The pandemic has exposed key gaps in the ability of the workforce to work from home, but let’s not forget the importance of it in essential day-to-day activities.