THE DIGITAL DIVIDE ACROSS AUSTRALIA
Despite being a highly developed nation, Australia is not ready for the digital transformation occurring in the education sector. While connectivity is widespread in all but remote Australia, hundreds of thousands of students do not own their own laptop. Many schools have reported device ownership rates of less than 15%. For students without computers, when schools closed during the pandemic, learning stopped. Quality education was no longer accessible to all young people.
The digital divide reflects the broader inequality in Australia and cuts deeply across familiar socioeconomic lines. First Australians, new Australians and regional Australians are more likely to experience digital poverty, isolating them from the opportunities that come with digital ownership and agency. With public services, employment, study and networking rapidly moving online, how do future leaders from within these cohorts thrive in the digital age if they do not have digital tools in their hands?
OUR DIGITAL INCLUSION PROGRAM
Device poverty is widespread across regional Australia. Our Digital Inclusion Program offers a direct solution to this issue, placing laptops at the fingertips of students in need and giving them critical e-safety and digital skills required to safely navigate the digital world. We have provided 3,200 students with a quality laptop. We especially work with First Nations, migrant/refugee backgrounds and regional communities, who experience digital inequality most sharply.
Digital access empowers students, enabling them to tap into the opportunities and services which the digital world offers. Beneficiaries of our program have used their devices to apply for university, start online businesses, study online, help Mum and Dad with the books on farm, and access mental health support programs. Postcode should not determine participation in the digital lifesphere. We have connected students from as far afield as Cape York, Mt Isa, Melbourne, Wiluna and Wollongong. The digital world belongs to all of us and no Australian child should be left behind.
OUR DIGITAL COMMUNITIES PROGRAM
Digital inequality stretches beyond the classroom. In 2022, we launched our Digital Communities Program to tackle the digital divide across wider society. In partnership with NBN, we have built 16 community digital hubs across regional Queensland. We have supported charities working with children living with disabilities, groups tackling homelessness, social enterprises providing employment opportunities, and newly arrived refugee migrant families from Ukraine, Central Africa and Myanmar trying to get started in Australia.
The digital divide is widespread across Australia, cutting across all societal lines. If you know a student, a family or a community group going without digital tools, we may be able to help.
"Since we arrived in Australia, our children have been forced to switch to distance learning, studying on our mobile phones. This was very inconvenient for the children and for us, because having a very small screen, learning was difficult. Now the situation has changed a lot! Each child has their own laptop and they can fully immerse themselves in the learning process and we can have our phones back..."
- Khmelevskoi family, who received 8 laptops in 2023.
Postcodes cannot determine participation in the digital world. LiteHaus International has gone to the ends of the Earth, quite literally, to ensure that no Australian student is left behind in the digital world. Cape York and the Gulf Country in Queensland are some of the most remote parts of the country. Schools here reported device ownership rates of less than 10% before we intervened. More than 500 students (predominantly First Nations children) now own their own device. NBN's investments into improving connectivity enables them to get the most of them.
Eighty-five students from Townsville State High School have been recipients of the Digital Inclusion Program. Coming to Australia only recently as refugees or migrants from Democratic Republic of Congo, and other parts of Africa, these students are hungry for education. Their Principal, Rob Slater, explained that the devices had improved their learning outcomes and even assisted students in learning English almost from scratch.
Tens of thousands of Australian students, particularly in rural and remote regions, do not own a personal digital device at home. Caesar Duncan was one of them – an ambitious future leader who dreamt big but needed a digital device to do his talents justice. With the tools to learn and the tools to dream, Caesar has been able to apply for qualifications and jobs and is now employed at both the AFL and Cricket Australia. Caesar is one of 3,200 high school students across rural, regional and remote Queensland who we have empowered to take ownership over his educational journey.
Rob Slater (Principal, Townsville State High School)