The Building Digital Communities Framework for Action defines Digital Inclusion as “the ability of individuals and groups to access and use information and communication technologies.” Simply put, Digital Inclusion is about ensuring that the benefits of digital technologies are available to everyone. 

This is especially important for education. In today’s increasingly blended learning environments around the globe, all students, of any age, should have the ability to access and use all information and communication technology (ICT) tools that are available. 

What had become an important talking point has now become a critical issue within the COVID pandemic and in the massive move to hybrid and blended learning.

The Impact of Digital Inclusion on Government Policy, Economic Health and the Job Market

Governments around the world are seeing the importance of Digital Inclusion within their communities, and most importantly, within their educational systems. A decade ago, discussions largely focused on teacher competence, with little interest in digital policy, other than essential connectivity requirements. But with the online education market set to reach $350 billion by 2025*, governments are seeing that a digitally-excluded population lacks skills, confidence and motivation, along with having limited or no access to equipment and connectivity to compete in today’s global environment. 

In order for countries to stay competitive, Digital Inclusion must evolve as technology advances. Governments must have intentional strategies and investments and strive to reduce and eliminate institutional and structural barriers to technology accessibility. Digital Inclusion has become a major subject of discussion around the world, whether in the US as a part of the emergency COVID relief measures, including $3.2B set aside for Emergency Broadband Benefits, in the UK with its guides to using digital technologies to promote inclusivity or in the EU with its web accessibility and digital inclusion initiatives for a better EU society. At the 2020 G20 summit, digitalization was prioritized in the policy agenda

What Exactly Do We Mean by Digital Inclusion in Education? 

Today technology plays a major role in how students learn, what they learn and eventually how they will use it in their adult life and in the job market. In this new educational landscape, how can we guarantee a fair distribution of opportunities and digital inclusion for all? 

Digital Inclusion can be broken down into 5 main areas of focus necessary to ensure that all students, including the most disadvantaged, have access to the advantages of ICTs.  

The 5 elements of a digitally inclusive educational environment are:

  • affordable and robust broadband internet access
  • internet-enabled devices  
  • digital literacy training 
  • sufficient technical support
  • applications and accessible online content designed to support learning, literacy, autonomy and participation for all learners

As a study on digital inclusion for media carried out by the University of Maryland states, there is a clear pathway for libraries and media providers, and so it follows, schools and educational institutions, on the ‘Route to Digital Inclusion’ by providing:

  • Free access to technology tools
  • Access to accessible digital content 
  • Digital literacy services that assist individuals navigate, understand, evaluate, and create digital content using a range of ICTs.
  • Programs and services around key need areas 
**

How Can Public and Private Schools and Institutions Embrace Digital Inclusion?

Importantly, institutions must address Digital Inclusion from a broad vantage point. One US government study’s findings*** suggest that “digital exclusion cannot be predicted or dealt with by categorising students into groupings of: gender, age, ethnicity, geography, socio-economic status and educational background. Additionally, the findings indicate that digital exclusion is influenced by organisational factors, such as elements of the course content or navigation of the virtual learning environment rather than intrinsic factors such as individual technological skills.”

This means that access to ICTs and the supporting educational technology tools should be available across the board, throughout the institution. Adoption of performant learning management systems, making content accessible and providing assistive technology tools to all learners are building blocks for a Digital Inclusion strategy. 

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Sources:

*Research and Markets,

https://www.researchandmarkets.com/reports/4876815/online-education-market-and-global-forecast

**University of Maryland, https://digitalinclusion.umd.edu/content/what-digital-inclusion

***’Strategies for Digital Inclusion: Towards a Pedagogy for Embracing and Sustaining Student Diversity and Engagement with Online Learning,’ by Baylie Hart Clarida, Milena Bobeva, Maggie Hutchings and Jacqui Taylor, Education Resources Information Center