Data and device poverty driving digital divide

Data and device poverty driving digital divide

A QUT-led project has found some families are investing in technology to ensure their children are not disadvantaged but cost-of-living pressures mean they are cutting out other essentials to do so.

Professor Michael Dezuanni, Associate Director of QUT’s Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC), said a significant number of families are struggling to stay in touch with digital technologies, particularly for education.

“The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the need for internet access to do just about everything, but the sudden transition to services online left many families more digitally excluded than ever,” Professor Dezuanni said.

“For many Australian families, digital poverty is a daily reality.”

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Professor Dezuanni leads an Australian Research Council linkage grant-funded project - Advancing digital inclusion in low income Australian families project – and its interim report has just been published.

“Our research has been gathering insights from 36 families from six different communities in Australia, ranging from far north Queensland to Tasmania and including regional, urban and rural locations,” he said.

“Research teams at these communities have explored children's home and school learning experiences, school leavers’ transitions into work, and the experience of parenting in digital times and during a pandemic.”

Based on in-depth interviews, key findings so far include that many students in low-income families do not have the internet and device access they need to successfully complete their school work, said Professor Dezuanni.

“Even where they do have internet access, this is often restricted by inadequate access to data. The findings highlight a critical need for greater coordination of services (including across schools, libraries, and support agencies) to enable all families to thrive in the digital age,” he said.

“As well as access to education, digital and data poverty impacts negatively on parenting, social participation, and employment.”

Project Manager Dr Kim Osman said the research team hoped the project would help develop new practices, policies and sector-wide solutions, as well as empower the Australian charity sector to play a bigger role.”

“QUT researchers including Professor Dezuanni, Professor Marcus Foth and Associate Professor Peta Mitchell are collaborating with researchers from Swinburne University, Western Sydney University and RMIT,” Dr Osman said.

“The project partners are The Smith Family, Infoxchange, yourtown, LEEP NGO and the Good Things Foundation Australia, which is running Get Online Week and is hosting a tip sheet created with QUT to guide organisations on helping people get online.”