Connecting on Country, a new report from World Vision Australia and The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, highlights the inequity in access to the internet for First Nations students, particularly those living in remote communities. Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor, APO’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, explores how government could do more to assist these students.
One-in-four First Nations households in Australia do not have internet access at home. This was especially disruptive to students’ education during 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, due to schooling moving predominantly online. Connecting on Country, which features in APO’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, outlines the obstacles for some Indigenous students in Australia with regards to technology, and how government can assist in creating equal access to the internet for all students.
The report refers to ‘the digital divide’ as the gap between those who can access the internet, computers and mobile phones - and those who cannot. Eighty-five per cent of all households in Australia have access to the internet, compared to 75.3 per cent of First Nations households.
The report explores possible solutions to this digital divide, such as leveraging existing telecommunications, including NBN or 5G technology. A collaborative approach is needed across the public and private sectors to do this.
The report states that through government-led incentives such as potentially subsidising corporate Australia, there are many ways to provide internet access in certain regions and communities. These proposed initiatives can also provide opportunities for companies to donate second-hand or unused computers from their respective offices or possibly a donation program for corporations to contribute to closing the digital divide.
Connecting on Country states:
“Ultimately, education is a human right and, when education goes online, every student should have the ability to continue their education regardless of their socio-economic status, race or location.” The benefits of closing the digital divide would not only improve learning conditions for First Nations students but would create opportunities for First Nations businesses to move online, for people to access government services, and to further the digitising of First Nations cultural materials through practices such as language repatriation. In addition to this, health centres in remote and rural areas will have access to better internet which would be useful for electronic booking systems. Improved access to the internet for First Nations students will address the Closing the Gap target that aims for students to achieve their full learning potential through culturally appropriate learning. Furthermore, greater digital access will support Indigenous communities - the family members, teachers and friends of students in remote areas, ensuring fewer people are left behind.
This article was first published by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG). ANZSOG works in partnership with APO to increase knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. This partnership includes support for the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection on APO, which is curated from a broad choice of key Indigenous policy topics and provides a valuable resource on Indigenous affairs, with a focus on diverse Indigenous voices.
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