Social exclusion and digital Britain

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 27 April 2009

Amongst all the heat surrounding Australia’s move towards being a broadband nation [with the project cited as “nation-building”], and the UK Government’s attempts to lever the same in its proposed UK broadband network, I came across Helen Milner’s slides on Digital Inclusion The Evidence from the April 2009 National Digital Inclusion Conference in London [thanks to @joannejacobs].

Milner highlights how socio-economic groups DE, those with poor education and low educational aspirations, alongside older people and those with low technological confidence, are marginalised and excluded from the benefits of technology, that include:

She also re-focused my thinking about how marginalisation and exclusion from a broadband, networked world is reinforcing the indicators of poverty that include high-levels of children, pensioners, disabled-adults, single adults and those in social housing, and where low levels of parental educational attainment are still impacting on child poverty. In turn this impacts on our ability to engage more people with technology to help more people lift themselves out of poverty because “the other resources available to the family are also important” [ Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Consultation response: ‘Ending child poverty: Making it happen’] in helping to achieve this aim. These other resources include meaningful access to technology.

For Universities to make a difference this means allocating resources to generate local engagements with schools and colleges and community groups, to ensure that social capital is valued and enhanced within communities. It also demands targeting low income and aspiration groups, not necessarily in order to manufacture or create demand for HE programmes, but because it is the right thing to do for institutions that might look globally but which are rooted locally.

Helen Milner reminds us all that universites have a powerful role to play in bringing forward projects that enable communities to utilise technologies for capacity and capability-building, as well as for community development. They should be able to affect policy but as importantly also practice, and as well as looking to Government for policy, ideas and financial frameworks, they should look to communities for voluntary activism and local engagement with social justice. This is more than the engagement of specific HE-based research and development departments or institutes, and is a core responsibility of Universities, who are perfect partners as schools and community groups attempt to raise performance and aspiration, with technology-enhanced activism at the heart of the matter.

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