Digital Exclusion Statistics
Government research1 into digital exclusion highlights the fact that it affects some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in society:
- 37% of those who are digitally excluded are social housing tenants
- 17% of people earning less than £20,000 never use the internet
- Only 2% of people earning more than than £40,000 never use the internet
- 44% of people without basic digital skills are on low wages or unemployed
- 33% of people with registered disabilities have never used the internet
- Over 53% of people who lack basic digital skills are aged over 65
- Only 6% of people who lack digital skills are between 15 and 24 years
There are numerous barriers to digital literacy which adults and young people encounter. These can be broken down into situational, institutional and dispositional, as outlined below.
Situational barriers arise as a consequence of an individual’s personal circumstances. In respect of digital literacy skills, the following barriers may apply:
- Too expensive
- Not enough time
- Nobody to look after the children
- Too busy working
- No transportation
- No access to a computer at home
- Family and friends are unsupportive
- Disability combined with a lack of suitable tools and technology
More often than not, cost and time are frequently cited as being the most common reasons for not pursuing digital literacy learning. This can extend to the cost of the course, transport costs or child-care costs. There may even be a loss of income due to not being able to work overtime or potentially, a loss of benefits. The individual may also have family or work commitments that prevent attendance. Due to cultural beliefs, some women from ethnic minority groups may not have developed digital literacy skills, due to opposition from family members, who may not support their quest for education.
Institutional barriers typically arise as a consequence of an organisation’s policies and procedures. However, they can even extend to the governing political party’s manifesto and what is viewed as being a priority. In respect of digital literacy, there are many institutional barriers which individuals may struggle to overcome, such as:
- Don’t meet entry requirements
- Length of course is too long
- Inflexible course dates and times
- Not enough information
- Class size too big and impersonal
- Overly strict attendance requirements
- Too much red tape
For example, courses may be badly advertised or do not address specific digital training needs. Adults and young people must be able to see a benefit in attending digital literacy training. The courses may also not be held at times that are suitable for prospective attendees. Inaccessible, or poorly located venues is also another barrier for some, especially if they have any disability. Furthermore, if an individual has some essential skills needs, the prospect of filling in endless reams of enrolment forms, can appear overly bureaucratic and daunting.
Dispositional barriers to learning are those roadblocks that originate from deep within an individual. These typically include a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy and stupidity: especially when compared to others. In respect of barriers to digital literacy, these may include:
- Afraid that too old to learn new skills
- Didn’t do well in school exams, so not clever enough
- Didn’t enjoy school and don’t want to go back to a learning environment
- Setting realistic targets for learners
Adults and young people may simply feel uncomfortable at the prospect of going back into education. They may have negative experiences of their school years, lack confidence, feel embarrassed or simply hold the belief that they are ‘too old’ to begin learning digital literacy skills.
It is also important to recognise that dispositional barriers tend to affect some groups of adults and young people, more than others. A report commissioned by the homeless charity Crisis (2006)2 identified that 60% of homeless people either had no qualifications or had qualifications below that of Level 2. Despite the survey identifying that over 56% of homeless people wanted to participate in some form of training or educational activities, homeless people are less likely to attend training activities to improve their qualifications. Lack of self-confidence was cited as a significant barrier that many homeless people experienced. Ex-rough sleepers, in particular, highlighted difficulties in getting back into society, interacting with others and participating in training.
How to Overcome Barriers to Digital Literacy
Although there are generic solutions to overcoming barriers to digital literacy, it is important to remember that these must be tailored to suit the individual needs of the digital literacy learner.
Removing Situational Barriers
With 44% of adults and young people being unemployed or on a low income, it is no wonder that many state finance as being a reason for them having low digital literacy skills. Hence, it is vital that financial support is provided, to help individuals overcome these obstacles. The following will help to overcome some of these barriers:
- Checking to see if grants are available to purchase a home computer
- Checking benefit entitlements for those on low income or with a disability
- Professional help with budgeting to identify if any scope for saving
- Help with online switching services to lower utility bills and insurance costs
- Provision of child care facilities at training venues
- Signposting to local facilities that provide public internet access e.g. libraries and internet cafes
- Signposting to free digital literacy courses at local job clubs and organisations such as Working Links and Shaw Trust
- Provision of other essential skills training alongside digital literacy classes
- Encouraging Housing Associations to provide free Wifi access for tenants
While it is helpful to have access to computer facilities at local libraries, not all learners feel confident enough to use the equipment on their own. While librarians are more than willing to help unfortunately, not all have the time to sit down with learners. While the use of public computers has significantly increased sadly, the same cannot be said for public sector funding. Additionally, as the demand for public computer access increases, the amount of time a user can spend on them is often restricted: sometimes, to only one hour.
Removing Institutional Barriers
As stated earlier, the government recognises that digital exclusion affects some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups.1 Consequently, it should also acknowledge that many of these individuals have a unique set of circumstances which means that attendance and attainment at training courses is not always perfect. In this regard, less emphasis should be placed on key performance indicators, for such courses, within educational and training establishments. Furthermore, finance should be made able to permit smaller class sizes to be held. This will help to reduce the ‘intimidation factor’ that many learners experience.
In order to help minimise barriers to digital literacy, training providers should consider implementing the following:
- Provision of ‘taster’ courses
- More entry level classes
- Learners allowed to progress at their own pace and be allowed to retake the same training, if required
- Smaller class sizes
- Classes held at local venues
- Flexible course dates and times
- Flexible attendance
- Simplified enrolment forms
- Assistance to complete paperwork
Training organisations must also have specialist equipment that can be adapted to suit the needs of a disabled learner. For example, screen magnifiers, voice recognition software, trackballs, joysticks, key depressors, braille keyboards and keyboards with large keys and high definition.
Removing Dispositional Barriers
Dispositional barriers are often harder to recognise and can be more difficult to overcome, especially as they typically require a change in an individual’s mindset. Nonetheless, steps can be undertaken to help a digital literacy learner, as follows:
- Signposting and encouraging attendance at confidence building courses
- Signposting to short, ‘bite-sized’ digital literacy classes
- Selling the advantages and opportunities of digital literacy
- Providing practical support throughout the learning journey
- Identifying individual goals that can be advanced by improved digital literacy skills
- Identifying hobbies and interests that can be furthered by accessing the internet
- Cabinet Office (2014) Government Digital Exclusion Strategy. London. [15 October 2017]
- Opinion Leader Research (2006) Homeless People and Learning Skills – Participation, Barriers and Perception, pp. 3, 18. London: Crisis. [15 October 2017]