A new report has highlighted the deep inequality experienced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds in relation to digital inclusion.
The independent report, commissioned by the Australian Education Union (AEU), revealed the persistent long-term gap in digital access, affordability and ability experienced by many public school students from disadvantaged circumstances.
The study by Barbara Preston Research, titled: ‘Addressing digital inclusion for all public school students’, shows that the change in learning arrangements due to COVID-19 brought into sharp focus the lack of digital inclusion for many students, including access to the internet from home and indicators of possible lack of facilities and support at home that are conducive to home study and school work.
“It is important to recognise that the data used in this report identifies the persistent long-term gap in access to the necessary resources experienced by many students,” the report stated.
“Disruption to regular schooling caused by COVID-19 was not the cause of the digital inclusion gap but served to illuminate the severity of the existing structural problem”.
This gap is often accompanied by other factors that inhibit home study such as low income, remote location, English proficiency, disability and insecure or inadequate housing.
‘A wake-up call’
AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe said that the Preston Report was a damning indictment of the failure of the Federal Government to ensure that all students have access to the digital tools and resources that they need for their education.
“The Preston Report has highlighted the deep inequality experienced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds in relation to digital inclusion and in particular internet access,” Haythorpe said.
“This must be a wakeup call for the Federal Government about the urgent need to close the persistent long-term gap in internet access, affordability of IT hardware and software that is experienced by around 125,000 public school students”.
Haythorpe said the report demands an “immediate” response from the Commonwealth.
“[The Federal Government] needs to undertake a digital equity audit to identify the long-term, critical areas of need that have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular to ensure the digital inclusion gap experienced by vulnerable students is addressed permanently,” she said.
“As an immediate priority, the Federal Government must carry out a thorough digital equity audit to determine the impact on students of a lack of access to the internet and digital resources. Then a comprehensive plan must be developed, in consultation with the teaching profession, and be backed with resources”.