Narrowing the digital divide

Canada must ensure all youth have the skills to succeed in the new economy

Date published: 06/04/2010 12:00:00 PM

Classroom computers are meant to give Canadian youth an edge in the new digital economy. But in reality, the promise of early technology literacy is not being fulfilled, says Dianne Looker of Mount Saint Vincent University.

Looker leads an international team of researchers studying young people‘s access to and use of information and communications technology (ICT). Looking at youth in Canada, Australia and South Africa, they have found vast differences in access based on gender, geography, income, cultural background and education. In Canada, the digital divide seems to run deepest among our Aboriginal communities, where almost half the population is under 25.

"In policy, we find a high emphasis on ICT literacy for training tomorrow‘s ‘knowledge workers‘,"  she says. "And yet in practice, schools are implementing ICT into their curriculum in different ways. In some schools, the use of ICT appears to be associated with better learning outcomes, while in others, it does not."

To combat this inequity, Looker believes Canada must develop a systematic approach to technology training.

"Right now, students and faculty in teacher training programs have varying degrees of ICT literacy, and any integration of technology into these programs rarely addresses equity issues," she explains. "If there is to be equity, there must be opportunities for all youth to not only access the technology, but to learn the skills and develop the confidence they need to use it effectively."

Alongside scholarly publications, Looker‘s research has also produced community radio broadcasts, a documentary on ICT use in Nova Scotia and South Africa, a book for policy-makers and educators about digital diversity, and computer workshops for First Nations and African-Canadian youth.