Moving beyond the digital divide: Understanding digital inequalities and the effects on youth and digital literacy
The digital divide, including both the access divide and the imbalance of digital use threatens the vision of a democratic space where everyone has an equal opportunity for participation. Consequently, excluded groups will be at-risk from reaping the benefits from digital technology to the same extent as more privileged groups (Helsper et al., 2020; Blank & Lutz, 2018; Van Deursen & Helsper, 2015). This Provocations session is influenced by Van Dijk’s (2005, 2020) widely used differentiation of digital divide types (motivational, material, skills, and usage). In this we are concerned with each of these types of divides: the first-level divide of access; the second-level divide of digital skills and the third-level divide of motivation and usage. Our aim is to contribute to a broader discussion around digital inequalities and especially given the experiences faced across the global due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw many of us moving our lives and education online. The exceptional circumstance brought about by the pandemic have highlighted pre-existing digital inequalities and, in some cases, even resulted in an increase of the digital divides.
More specifically digital inequalities and social inequalities are rendering certain subgroups significantly more vulnerable. This is supported by research on digital literacy which has associated vulnerabilities with socio-economic and demographic backgrounds. This research shows that those with lower levels of digital skills can subsequently have lower engagement resulting in fewer benefits from the use of digital technology (Helsper, 2021; Paus-Hasebrink et al., 2014; Helsper & Eynon, 2013).
This session is jointly organized between CIES and the EU Horizon 2020 project DigiGen. DigiGen aims to understand the effects of digital technology on the everyday lives of children and young people. This session helps to further this aim by contributing to our understanding of digital inequalities, focusing on the “I” (International) in CIES. By bring a group of international scholars together we hope to develop a dialogue between these scholars and the CIES audience in contributing to addressing the challenges of digital inequality.
Dr Halla B. Holmarsdottir is a Professor and former Vice-Dean of Research at the Faculty of Education and International Studies, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway. Her research experience includes ethnographic fieldwork with children and young people, scientific coordination and collaboration in cross-national and interdisciplinary research teams, supervision of junior researchers, and co-editing and reviewing of scientific publications. Her research draws on interdisciplinary approaches and includes research on language issues, marginalization in education, social justice, gender, education and youth. This work has taken a central focus in looking at the way in which education and more specifically teacher education can contribute to providing competencies for democratic participation. She is currently the coordinator of a large-scale European Research project funded by Horizon 2020 (Grant Agreement no. 870548) entitled The Impact of Technological Transformations on the Digital Generation (DigiGen). Selected publications include: Youth as architects of change: global efforts to advance youth-driven innovation for social change (with Sheri Bastien, Palgrave Macmillian, 2017); Youth at the margins: experiences from engaging youth in research worldwide (with Sheri Bastien, Sense, 2015); Baily, S. and Holmarsdottir, H. (2015). The quality of equity? Reframing gender, development and education in the post-2020 landscape. Gender and Education, 27(7). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2015.1103842 ; Gendered voices: reflections on gender and education in South Africa and Sudan (with Vuyokazi Nomlomo, Alawia I. Farag and Zubeida Desai, Sense, 2013).
Dr Ellen Helsper is Professor of Socio-Digital Inequalities in the Media and Communications Department at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Her research interests include the links between social and digital inequalities; digital literacy; vulnerability and discrimination in digital spaces; mediated communication and interpersonal relationships; and methodological innovation in quantitative and qualitative media and communications research. She currently works on the YSkills; From Digital Skills to Tangible Outcomes; Global Kids Online; Connected Communities and Inclusive Growth; Communication crisis: Media Representations of COVID 19 Inequalities and World Internet projects. She has a PhD in Media and Communications from the LSE and an MSc in Media Psychology from Utrecht University. Ellen holds Visiting Scholar positions at research institutes in Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and the USA. She consults widely for governments, the third and commercial sector on client and citizen (dis)engagement in increasingly digital societies.
Inequalities in the access to and use of technology as well as the benefits obtained through engagement with ICTs are fundamental to understanding socio-economic and socio-cultural well-being in modern societies. Since currently some people systematically have more opportunities and are more capable of achieving positive outcomes from the digitisation of society, it is important to ask which policies and interventions will be more successful in overcoming unjust inequities? To answer the question about how me might prevent inequities expanding in increasingly digital societies, it is crucial to understand how digital and social inequalities are linked. In my book The Digital Disconnect I aim to fill a gap in theorisations of socio-digital inequalities where ‘the middle is largely missing. Relatively few scholars incorporate the networks and communities where people live their everyday lives’ (41) in their understanding of the causes of digital inequalities. Consequently, I narrow in on the meso level (between the micro and the macro) to raise awareness of the social components of our (dis)engagement with ICTs and resulting socio-digital inequalities.
I define socio-digital inequalities as ‘the systematic differences in the ability and opportunity for people to beneficially use (or decide not to use) ICTs, while avoiding negative outcomes of digital engagement now and in the future’ (27). The conceptual focus on inequalities of outcome suggests that even with the same opportunities, differences exist that cannot be chalked up to personal merit. Socio-digital inequalities are to be understood as intersectional, with compounding disadvantages that map onto traditional inequality research, as presented in the first chapter.
Dr Alicja Pawluczuk is a digital inclusion thinker-doer. Her research and community practice are grounded in democratic, participatory, experimental, and interactive methodologies. She works as an ICTD Research Fellow at the United Nations University, the Strategic Consultant in defining Digital Transformation in the European Youth Field at SALTO Participation and Information, and a researcher at the EU-Council of Europe youth partnership. Key areas of her expertise include digital youth work, digital inclusion, gender digital inclusion, digital literacies. Dr Pawluczuk is the founder of Digital Beez – a digital inclusion collective exploring the intersections of research, art, and community education.
The pandemic-induced accelerated use of digital technology has brought about significant changes to the European youth work. Through digital youth work – a practice of informal education where digital technologies are used or/and analysed – many youth workers have taken crucial roles of moderators between young people, society, digital technologies – and the COVID-19 reality. How has the pandemic affected youth work and non-formal education in Europe? What have we learnt about existing and emerging forms of digital inequalities in the youth field? Moving forward, how can we ensure the sustainable and inclusive digital transformation of the European youth sector? This talk aims to explore these questions.
Dr Tutaleni I. Asino is an experienced researcher, educator, and designer with a passion for finding innovative ways to use technology for learning, teaching, and organisational performances. He is an Associate Professor in Educational Technology and Director of the Emerging Technology and Creativity Research Lab in School of Educational Foundations, Leadership and Aviation at the Oklahoma State University’s College of Education and Human Sciences. His areas of research, writing, and presentations include adoption and use of Emerging Technologies in Learning environments, Comparative and International Education, Mobile Learning and Design for Mobile Devices, Indigenous knowledge, Diffusion of Innovations, Open Education, and how culture, agency, and representation manifest themselves and interplay in the development and evaluation of learning technologies across learning contexts. He is an active member of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), where he served as president of the Culture, Learning and Technology Division in the AECT; the Comparative International Education Society (CIES), where he has served as Chair of the Indigenous Knowledge Special Interest Group and the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education where he served as Co-Chair of the African Perspective Group. Tutaleni holds a dual Ph.D. in Learning, Design & Technology and in Comparative International Education from Penn State University. A B.A. in Political Science and Media Studies; M.Sc. in Multimedia Technologies, an M.A in Corporate Communication from Duquesne University; and an M.Sc. in Instructional Systems from Cabrini College.
Issues of digital divides and digital inequalities have for years been associated with or used in reference to contested terms such as “global south,” “third world,” “developing world.” The seemingly accepted notion was that poor people living in far-off lands could not access digital materials and needed help from wealthier countries. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has problematized this power dynamic. In education, we are being forced to re-examine our notions of digital literacy, digital divides, and digital skills. The COVID19 pandemic caused educational institutions in almost all countries worldwide to operate remotely. Students who never took online classes before and educators who never taught remotely were thrust into unfamiliar terrains, trying to make sense of the new realities. My contribution to the panel will focus on the need for more conversation on applying the comparative method to the field of Learning, Design, and Technology/Educational technology as a way to address the problematic notion of community arising from the covid-19 motto of “we are all in it together.” This motto ignores that while globally, educational institutions are facing the same thing, they are not facing it in the same way, nor do they all have the same tools to address the challenges stemming from the pandemic. By all accounts, the pandemic has not disappeared. While some institutions around the world are reopening, there are still be many that will find themselves trying to figure out how to learn and teach through virtual means or how to make sense of technology in education.