Chapter 2: The digital divide and adult learners
The digital divide is the difference between those who have access to affordable technology, skills and opportunities to leverage those skills and those who don’t. Examining the digital divide helps us understand the inequities and impacts that result in digital exclusion. People who are digitally excluded are often those who already experience socio-economic inequities, including those with low-incomes, people in rural and remote areas, Indigenous Peoples, older adults, people of colour and those with disabilities.
Connectivity and affordability problem
What educators and co-ordinators told us
In another AlphaPlus project, educators and program co-ordinators shared their experiences working with learners who face access and affordability challenges. Excerpts below are from the Wayfinders Studio, Personalized Delivery, 2021.
Struggling with internet in northern Ontario
Just 27 kilometers north of me, I have four learners — five now — there is no internet in their community at all. Don't even think about slow, it doesn't exist. We're on slow speed DSL. The highest speed — upload, download, anything that my computer would do — is three kbps [kilobits per second]. I've had Bell in here. We've tried everything. They said it's so archaic — because it's rural, because it's in the north, because there's next to no population — the infrastructure doesn't exist. You can pay Bell hundreds of dollars a month, but you're not going to get any better than what you have. That's been our challenge — and hardware for learners. I'm so surprised. We work with them so much and I didn't realize that they all manage with just their phone and the phone has limited minutes. When the libraries closed, that took a lifeline away from them.
What about software and subscriptions?
This is where the biggest issue has been — this whole concept of hardware/software/internet now. In the old days, if you recall, if you bought a laptop or a computer, it came preloaded. I've had learners bring their laptop in because I'm doing a video lesson and I ask them to pull up Excel and they can’t find it. I've been having them come to the office so I can look and there's nothing —t here’s no preloaded software. It's $100 to buy Microsoft Word — how are they going to get $100? The fact that OW [Ontario Works] got them a little laptop is great, but it has no software on it other than Windows 10. These issues have definitely been very challenging.
In Toronto, adult learners manage—sort of
They all have computers. Some of them will be on their phone for the Zoom meeting. And they manage — God knows how — they manage okay. But they do their homework on a computer. It depends on the kids and how many computers there are in the house.
A couple of them have got funds to get themselves a computer through OW [Ontario Works]. They've just got approval for the funds. There's one other who is waiting on the school lending a device. They all did this at the beginning — if they didn't have a device or if they didn't have internet, they sorted it out one way or another.