Download article (.pdf) | By Stephen McNair | Published in Learning to Bridge the Digital Divide, 2000
Just as the industrial revolution made some level of literacy and numeracy a requirement for all, so the electronic revolution within contemporary society makes digital literacy essential. People who lack access to relevant hardware and software and a basic understanding of ICT will also lack the confidence that they can continue to learn as the technologies evolve. As the technologies become ever more embedded in everyday life – and increasingly taken for granted by those with relevant equipment, skills and understanding – so the exclusion of the digitally illiterate deepens. Such exclusion is a major policy concern in all countries.
Stephen McNair, Professor at the University of Surrey, United Kingdom, shows in this article that, used wisely, the technologies can be a powerful influence in the lifelong learning context, in helping to overcome the inequalities in society. The present article’s examples also demonstrate, however, a clear risk that without policy intervention, ICT will intensify societal divisions rather than close them.
The relationships between ICT and lifelong learning, on one hand, and the broad common policy objectives of all OECD governments – to improve economic competitiveness and reduce social exclusion – are complex. The figure, Learning to Bridge the Digital Divide: Policy Inter-Relationships, illustrates the complexity. There are policy initiatives which support both competitiveness and inclusion, and there are ways of using digital technologies which encourage lifelong learning. The centre of the diagram is where lifelong learning and digital technologies come together to further both policy objectives. If we are to overcome the digital divide, it is important to increase the size of this area.
McNair offers the following key areas for government to consider, in relation to the changing world of ICT, in order that individuals and communities are not excluded from participation in society and the economy:
• Ensure quality of educational opportunities and access for all to hardware and software
• Invest in the new roles of teachers and learners
• Promote lifelong learning
• Use ICT to enhance citizenship
• Develop “brokering” services and agencies, which are intermediaries who will help individuals find their way through the maze of opportunities and providers
• Support, encourage and direct research
• Act in partnership with citizens and other governments to define objectives and effectively manage the change in the role of the policy-maker in education