There is no denying that the equity gap, festering in many countries and not addressed well, has become a gaping wound in the pandemic world and beyond. Globally, we have gone backwards – more girls denied education, more children out of school, less support for our most vulnerable communities. This post seeks to explore the Aotearoa New Zealand context and identifies critical interactions that might make initiatives towards digital equity more successful. This work is urgent and important…and complex.
What is Digital Equity?
The Digital Equity Coalition of Aotearoa (DECA) defines Digital Equity as the ultimate goal where:
Everyone can access and effectively use digital technologies so as to participate in our society, democracy and economy.
The initiatives and activities undertaken to achieve equity are referred to as digital inclusion.
The Connected Landscape
I have drafted this diagram to explain my thinking around a learning ecosystem approach to digital equity. If we don’t take this systems approach we are in danger of each identifying a different part of the elephant without seeing the whole! And so we work on one initiative, compete for resources, duplicate ideas and forget the richness of collaboration. Unless the whole system is kept in mind initiatives will be adhoc, unconnected and unlikely to make a deep difference.
At the heart of the model there are three critical considerations:
There is no one one way of dealing with inequities. Each story is different and therefore the needs of community must be at the heart of any conversation. Those affected need to be around the table and leading the conversations. This is a more sustainable and mana enhancing approach.
The Aotearoa New Zealand context remains at the heart of this important work. It acknowledges the unique partnership of Māori and Te Tiriti and also the specific needs of community at its heart.
The New Zealand Government’s Digital Inclusion Blueprint identifies four interdependent elements which are all needed for a person to be digitally included: motivation, access, skills and trust. I have put them in this order for two reasons. Of course it makes an easily remembered acronym! But more deeply than that I see motivation as a key foundation for wanting access and skills. The ‘sandwich’ of motivation and trust speak to the human condition, the needs, and the psychological safety of individuals and groups.
Motivation – understanding how the internet can help us connect, learn or access opportunities, and consequently have a meaningful reason to engage with the digital world.
Access – having access to digital devices, services, software and content that meet our needs at a cost we can afford; being able to connect to the internet where we work, live and play.
Skills – having the digital know-how to use the internet in ways that are appropriate and beneficial for each of us.
Trust – having trust in the internet and online services; having the digital literacy to manage personal information and to understand and avoid scams, harmful communication and misleading information; online safety, digital understanding, confidence and resilience.
The snapshot below, from our ongoing conversations on digital equity at Ako Ōtautahi Learning City Christchurch, identifies some of the questions that are connected with MAST.
The Access Focus
In 2016 the United Nations declared that the internet was a basic human right which plays an important role in civil participation. And in today’s world many of the current conversations online and in the media relate to access, especially at times when countries are locked down. Research, such as that undertaken by GCSN, completed in the first lockdown showed how much of a real problem this was. Claire Amos, principal at Albany Senior Secondary College, advocates for free or subsidised devices for all learners, but as she rightly points out many overseas examples have spent lots of money rolling out a one size fits all model, then within a few years when items need replacing there is no strategy to do so or schools are expected to add this to their budgets. This knee jerk reaction is no better than inaction. It sets up schools and students to be deeply disappointed and frustrated within a three year period. It is no use providing access that does not consider the long term implications or unintended consequences of decisions made. Yet access is often the one talked about most because it seems urgent and tangible.
With community, culture and context as key considerations, the combination of MAST elements of digital inclusion will take us on the journey towards digital equity. But that isn’t enough either.
Digital equity sits within the wider equity context and in this post I want to move the conversation into a systems change approach known as Deep Equity. Petty & Leach (2020) describe Deep Equity as ultimately about:
How do we be more human together and create social and environmental conditions on the planet where all can thrive and share their gifts?
Deep Equity begins with our responses as individuals, considers what this looks like in our relationships with others, explores the roles of institutions and the role of society/system. All four areas are fundamentally important in the equity conversation.
The four elements of deep equity are individual, interpersonal, institution/organisation and society/system. I will talk more about these in a subsequent post and suggest a framework for mapping these as part of our digital equity considerations. In short form however here is my interpretation of each of these elements.
A deep equity approach requires: learner stance; expansive perspective taking; and ecosystem centred awareness. The four areas work together considering the following overarching focuses:
- Particularity and universalism
- Multiple ways of being, knowing, doing
- The urgency of now and the legacy for generations
In the second post in the Digital Equity series I will share some further ideas about deep equity and move to a wider view of the system.