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Digital Inclusion Week: Lack of Access, Digital Literacy is Hurting Families

(May 11, 2018) - The future looks brighter for those with the right digital skills.

Happy Family 1 300x190Digital inclusion means going beyond getting a computer, or connecting to the internet, or posting photos on Snapchat. It means learning how to use technology in innovative ways that employers need. Those who possess those skills will be a step ahead of those who do not. Unfortunately, as with so many issues related to internet usage, the gap between the haves and the have nots is already wide, and a digital skills gap is only going to open it further.

Business leaders already point to it. Jaime Casap, Google's Chief Educational Evangelist, cited digital citizenship, or the ability to participate in all parts of the digital world, as "the minimum requirement for the new economy. We need strong digital leaders.”

Victor Montgomery, a Business Analyst for State Farm reminds us that digital literacy skills have the potential to “bridge the opportunity divide for students.” Speaking of the future of the American workforce, Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher at Microsoft, says “people will create the jobs of the future, not simply train for them, and technology is already central.”

Yet there already exists a gap, delineated by those who do and do not have the digital literacy skills needed in the workforce. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a lack of digital literacy skills is one of the top three barriers to home broadband adoption, with 46% of non-users citing the lack of digital skills as a cause. Low‐income households comprise a disproportionate share of the more than 38 million homes that do not subscribe to broadband.

This affects today’s workers, as well as their children. With no home broadband connections, these children are less likely to be able to do their homework online, master digital skills, and stay competitive with their wealthier peers. Low‐income homes with children are four times more likely to lack broadband than middle or high income families. Likewise, low‐income black and Hispanic families with children trail comparable white households with children by about 10 percentage points for home broadband adoption rates.

A 2015 survey by the Hispanic Heritage Foundation provides additional insights into the issue. Nearly 50 percent of all students said they were unable to complete a homework assignment because they lacked access to the Internet or a computer, while 42 percent of students surveyed believed they received a lower grade on an assignment because they lacked access to the Internet. Hispanic and African American students were most likely to answer yes to both of these questions.

This is why America needs to remain focused on maintaining the level of excellence in its workforce by ensuring that everyone has an opportunity as well as the skills needed to use the advanced tools of today’s workplace. Digital inclusion is vital to ensure that everyone has a chance to compete and succeed in today’s workplace, as well as the one of the future. Without digital inclusivity, we are choosing to widen that crevasse, leaving a large vulnerable population on the wrong side of that gap. That is unacceptable.

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About the Author: Chris McGovern is the Director of Research Development for Connected Nation. He works with Connected Nation staff and external stakeholders to develop research deliverables and provide critical analysis. He uses qualitative and quantitative techniques to interpret data, formulate reports, and make substantiated recommendations based on research findings.