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Why Digital Inclusivity Must Be a Top-of-Mind Strategy for Educators

September 7, 2022 by Jean-Rémi Larcelet-Prost
Two higher education students in front of a computer

Technology plays a significant role in how students learn, what they learn and how their elementary and secondary education plays a role in their adult lives. In an increasingly blended education landscape, teachers and administrators must work to guarantee a fair distribution of opportunities for all students. Digital inclusivity (DI) ensures the benefits of digital technologies are available to everyone, and when coupled with other technologies like text-to-speech (TTS) and assistive equipment, that teachers and administrators have the tools to ensure each student succeeds. 

What is Digital Inclusivity?

According to the Building Digital Communities Framework for Action, digital inclusivity is defined as “the ability of individuals and groups to access and use information and communication technologies.” 

As learning environments have been upended over the last two years, there is an increased urgency to remove barriers to digital inclusion for every student. Digital inclusivity can be broken down into five areas of focus necessary to ensure that all students—especially the most disadvantaged—have access to information and communication technology (ICT):

  • 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

What’s more, the American Library Association and the University of Maryland conducted a study on digital inclusion, which found that there is a clear path for libraries, media providers, schools and educational institutions to follow to create a robust digital inclusivity strategy by offering:

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

With educators’ plates busier than ever before, creating or improving a digital inclusivity strategy may seem daunting, but educators have help thanks to governments’ role in ensuring widespread success.

What is the Government’s Role in Improving Digital Inclusivity?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting move to hybrid and blended learning, digital inclusivity has become a more critical issue in recent years. In today’s increasingly blended learning environments, all students should have the ability to access and use ICT tools. As a result, governments are prioritizing access to these tools as they understand the importance of digital inclusion within their communities and within their educational systems more specifically.

With the online education market set to reach $350 billion by 2025, government officials are learning that digitally excluded populations lack skills, confidence and motivation to compete in today’s global economy. For countries to stay competitive, digital inclusion needs to evolve at the same pace as technology. As such, governments must create intentional strategies and investments to reduce and eliminate institutional and structural barriers to technology accessibility. Globally, digital inclusion has become a major focus area, with countries like the U.S., UK and EU taking action in the form of:

As governments continue to make technology investments to remain competitive, public and private schools and institutions will benefit and be better prepared to embrace digital inclusivity efforts.  There are numerous grants and fundings available to support educational organizations to equip themselves with assistive technology and accessibility support.

How Can Educational Institutions Incorporate Digital Inclusivity?

A United States government study found that digital exclusion can’t categorize students into groupings, and that digital exclusion is influenced by organizational factors, such as course content or navigation of the virtual learning environment. As such, access to ICTs and supporting educational technology tools should be available across the board, throughout the institution.

Adopting performant learning management systems, making content accessible and providing assistive technology tools to all learners are the building blocks to creating a comprehensive digital inclusion strategy. Educational leaders may also consider adopting TTS tools that help make content more engrossing, which can improve student retention, engagement and overall performance.

A small boy in front of a laptop computer

By adding TTS capabilities to online material, students can listen to the text as much as they like to retain information, and helps schools comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). Text to speech can also support bilingual students to help them better understand written content, and the technology is available on mobile devices, so students can access the content outside of the classroom. 

A digital inclusivity strategy enables educators to create a framework that prioritizes each student’s access to digital content in and outside of the classroom and coupled with technology like TTS, they can enhance every lesson to create more engagement and learning. 

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is another framework that aligns well with digital inclusion, where the idea is to support a flexible approach to learning and allow all learners to reap the benefits of assistive technology. While many learners do well with retaining and comprehending through reading, many other learners learn better through auditory or kinesthetic learning. Similarly to digital inclusion, the idea is to offer ICT to all learners, allowing each learner to learn the way that works best for them, maximizing each individual’s learning potential.

Digital Inclusion is More Important Than Ever

Incorporating digital inclusion into learning environments becomes obvious when aware of the benefits it brings to all types of learners, the educators and the organizations themselves. With the ever growing role of technology in modern education, digital inclusion needs to be on the forefront of educators minds to ensure the best outcome for everyone.

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