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The overlooked impact of basic reading and education levels on inequalities in internet use

12 Jun 2013

This presentation highlights data on the links between ICT use and basic reading and text comprehension. It reports qualitative findings from a range of projects conducted in South Australia about Internet and mobile phone use among disadvantaged communities; these include Australians from lower income backgrounds, rural areas, young people with a disability, Aboriginal Australians, and older non-English speaking migrants. A strong issue to emerge is the barrier to commencing or expanding Internet use posed by people's low levels of English literacy, including among native English speakers. This may be thought of as a minor problem and one which is not widespread. However, perhaps surprisingly, national data show that almost half of all Australians aged 15-74 have reading levels below the minimum needed to meet the demands of everyday life and work (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2008). The paper will finish with suggestions of how issues of basic literacy can be accommodated by changing broader community structures such as Internet design, service delivery, and government policy so that disadvantaged community groups are not further left out as social connections and services increasingly move online. The Internet is often seen as having the ability to equalise social differences and maximise community participation for all. However, research is increasingly suggesting that inequities in Internet use are not being overcome by providing infrastructure, public access and digital skills training. In Australia, home Internet use exhibits a ‘digital gradient’ across the population (Newman et al 2010).

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