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Have you ever heard of the Digital Divide?
In Canada, it’s more severe than many people realize, and it creates inequality among many groups, including school-aged children.
In an increasingly technological world, what can we do to reduce or eliminate the effects of the Digital Divide? Read on to find out.
The term “Digital Divide” refers to a lack of equality when it comes to computer and internet access.
When you and everyone in your network has fast, reliable internet access, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is in the same position. That’s not the case, though.
Over the years, the accessibility gap has been growing between those who do have access to the internet (the wealthy and middle class, those living in urban and suburban areas, etc.) and other types of technology and those who don’t (the poor, those living in rural areas, those with disabilities, etc.).
Many other factors play into internet and technological inequality, too. For example, race and gender often make a difference in the amount of access one does or doesn’t have.
How bad is digital inequality in Canada?
At first glance, it might not seem like that much of an issue. After all, some reports show that up to 96 percent of Canadians have access to broadband Internet with a minimum download speed of 5 Mbps.
For those who live in the North, though, in more rural and remote areas, that number drops to 79 percent.
For those in low-income households, the disparity is even more noticeable. Approximately 42 percent of low-income Canadian households lack Internet access, and around 5 million school-aged children don’t have reliable internet access at home.
Bridging the Digital Divide is all about closing the gap as much as possible between all groups affected by digital inequality.
To do this, it’s important to remember that the divide isn’t just a matter of wealthy vs. poor. Other types of inequality, such as gender inequality and racial disparities, need to be factored in as well.
Only a multi-pronged approach will work best when it comes to creating more digital equality and providing all of Canada’s residents, particularly students, with the access they need to succeed.
Some people (likely the same ones who have never had to worry about the strength of their internet connection) don’t understand why the digital divide is such a problem. For those who aren’t sure why this matters, here are a few consequences of internet inequality to keep in mind:
For those living in rural areas, in particular, unreliable or slow internet connections make it harder to communicate.
An increase in social isolation and a lack of communication may prevent people from seeking help during emergencies. It can also lead to feelings of loneliness and may contribute to or exacerbate mental health challenges like depression, anxiety, etc.
For school children, specifically, lack of communication can prevent them from keeping up with their peers in school, too. They may struggle to get in touch with others when they have questions, and, in the case of remote learning situations (like we experienced this last year in the wake of COVID-19), may face difficulties connecting with their teachers and fellow students.
On a similar note, lack of access to the internet holds people back from easily accessing information. This includes information related to doing schoolwork, of course, but it also includes other matters.
For example, many people have had trouble digitally scheduling appointments for COVID-19 vaccines. This creates a lot of frustration and prevents them from getting protected from the virus as quickly as they may have otherwise.
As more companies and public entities start moving their services online, those with unreliable internet may fall behind and have trouble accessing the information they need.
If children spend little-to-no time using computers and other types of technology at home, they may find themselves behind when they get to school.
These days, digital literacy is a necessity if a student wants to succeed in school and in the workplace. If students aren’t getting much practise at home because they only have access to a computer or tablet at school, this may cause them to fall behind their peers.
Worldwide, 52 percent of women are affected by the Digital Divide, compared to only 42 percent of men. If we don’t work to close the Digital Divide as quickly as possible, it will likely become harder to address other issues related to gender inequality, such as income disparities and educational disparities.
Finally, those who aren’t tech-savvy or who don’t have reliable technology access may have a harder time finding employment compared to others who sit on the other side of the Digital Divide.
This is an issue for both students trying to find work and adults who are trying to support their families. With so many job postings and job applications only available online, those who are suffering as a result of digital inequality will have a hard time keeping up.
At this point, you’re well aware that the Digital Divide is a genuine problem in Canada (as well as throughout the world). Now, though, you might be asking questions like “How do you bridge the digital divide in education?” or “How do we start bridging the Digital Divide in Canada?”
There’s not one specific action that will totally solve this complicated issue. There are several factors of bridging the Digital Divide that need to be taken into account, including the following:
Currently, there are several projects in place designed to increase internet access and provide all Canadians with high-speed internet connections. These projects need funding to achieve their goals, though.
It may be tempting to let the creators of these projects figure out how to fund them on their own. The onus shouldn’t only be on private entities, though. With government involvement, progress can be made toward closing the gap a lot faster.
Not only do people need more access to technology and strong internet connections, but they also need to get these services at affordable prices.
If internet service providers (or ISPs) can start offering more cost-effective internet packages, it will be easier for those who have gone without previously to upgrade their internet and reap the benefits of better connections.
Some have even called for universal internet packages for low-income families, which would be available at very low prices (some have proposed a price of just $10 per month).
The standards need to be raised when it comes to infrastructure, too. One way to do this is by focusing on fibre technology moving forward.
Fibre technology is longer-lasting than other types of internet connections (such as DSL and cable). This is essential for future-proofing universal internet projects and ensuring everyone has equal access to reliable internet.
It’s important for all parties to have equal access to fibre infrastructure, too. This will help to further bridge the divide and level the playing field for internet service providers and municipalities.
The Digital Divide is a serious issue that is holding many of Canada’s schoolchildren back. By implementing the Digital Divide solutions mentioned above, we can help to close the gap and ensure all children have access to fast, reliable internet (and all the advantages it provides).