, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 133-149
Date: 11 Nov 2012

Aligning digital and social inclusion: A study of disadvantaged students and computer access

Abstract

In this paper we discuss the notion of the digital divide and link it with recent policy designed to promote social inclusion in a project that addressed both issues. Families in low socio economic areas of Australia were given computers and Internet access as part of a project that had as its primary aim to support the participation of disadvantaged families in digital activities at home and in schools. The authors collected data over a period of 3 years that included, pre and post surveys with parents and students, interviews with program facilitators, and focus groups with parents. This paper focuses on selected themes that emerged from the interview and focus group data with the parents and explores the ways in which they perceived having the computer had impacted on their lives and those of their school aged children. This data (surveys, interviews and focus groups) reveals that all family members felt that the ownership of a computer enabled them to feel more confident about their active participation in everyday educational, social and community activities. Parents, teachers and students also reported that owning a computer was important to their lives yet they were not naïve to the fact that they still had a lot to learn in terms of using all the options available to them on the computer. Students noted the increased ease with which they could complete school work and communicate with friends in online contexts and outlined some of the ways in which they used the computer for leisure activities. Parents highlighted the increase in their own digital skill levels and described the ways in which their lives had benefitted from having a computer in the home. Problems associated with connectivity at the beginning of the project, the quality of the machines and inadequate initial training were listed as drawbacks to greater participation. The project represents one attempt to address the digital divide and illustrates how going beyond the dichotomy of a ‘haves’ v ‘have nots’ view of the digital divide is necessary if we want to promote social inclusion.

1Yelland and Neal (The Smith Family, Australia), Tech Packs project.