Beyond the digital divide: young people and ICT

Alex Elwick

Kristin Liabo

Joe Nutt

Antonia Simon

The concept of the 'digital divide' has long been used to justify provision of free or discounted computer equipment to school students in the UK, yet 95% of households with children now have access to the internet.

Only 3% of the nation's young people can be described as 'non-users' (with no access to the internet anywhere), a group that is not representative of any one socioeconomic class. Any debate over the 'digital divide' that centres purely on whether or not school students can access the internet is redundant - internet access is all but universal. Furthermore, any schemes that exist solely to provide students in this country with free equipment - not engaging in the training or usage of this equipment - are in danger of wasting the resources they have.

This perspective paper, and its technical paper companion, describe the results of a literature review which investigates the digital divide in the UK.

This report makes a number of key recommendations in the form of challenges to some of the debate's key stakeholders:

  • A challenge to schools to empower their students to make use of the internet and ICT (information and communications technology) to which they have access; not only to encourage the use of this technology in school or in homework, but also to actively promote it and to promote effective ways of using it. This should not take the form of simply setting assignments that must be completed electronically, but should address the needs of school students in terms of making the most of technology and ensuring that they feel supported and confident when using this technology expressly for learning and working.
  • A challenge to parents and children to - together - understand and make use of the power of technology. Parents need to inculcate an attitude towards technology, computers and the internet amongst their children which regards the former as useful tools in both the pursuit of knowledge and learning and the direct completion of school work, including homework. Parents should feel properly supported and equally able to support their children.
  • A challenge to policy-makers to move away from initiatives which seek purely to provide internet access or equipment, and instead to begin addressing the needs of young people and their parents from lower socio-economic groups. This should centre on providing targeted support and training in order to engage children and young people from all backgrounds in the use of the internet and technology in school and homework, thus prioritising 'digital literacy' (communicating effectively using digital technologies) throughout the curriculum.
  • A challenge to researchers to investigate the nature and impact of ICT support and training for parents, children and young people. In particular this should focus on identifying the benefits that such provision might bring in terms of attainment - explicitly differentiating this approach from one concerned with the provision of access alone.