Narrowing the Digital Divide

By Kelly Guitard (Research Project Coordinator, NLWIC), Jessica Lee-Middleman (Adult Basic Education Instructor), and Alyssa King (Employment Counselor) at Employment Services, Stella’s Circle

International Literacy Day, September 8, is upon us with a focus on “Narrowing the Digital Divide.” The World Literacy Foundation defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” When access and knowledge is limited, a digital divide is created.

For many Stella’s Circle participants, the digital divide exists two ways. The first: in access to affordable and reliable internet service. And the second: in the skills needed to navigate online information, services, and systems. Low levels of digital literacy continue to overlap with other aspects of socio-economic marginalization, including low incomes. Employers want people to have the skills to be productive in a new role. They believe digital skills improve employability and increase business productivity. In fact, to successfully get a job already assumes a level of digital literacy. Applicants must already have access to technology since many employers advertise jobs online, and require applications to be submitted online.

Prior to COVID-19, many of our participants who are not able to afford internet at home or phone-based data packages would seek out free Wi-Fi in public spaces. These were public spaces like coffee shops, Metrobus, public libraries, and community organizations like Stella’s Circle. The  pandemic negatively impacted access to these public spaces, limiting vulnerable people’s ability to get information, access services, and apply for benefits.

In response to this need, most of our employment and work experience programs now include a digital component. Adult Basic Education, pre-employment groups, and Clean Start all include hands-on opportunities to use technology to actively improve digital literacy. Partnering with community organizations, such as the Community Sector Council’s techKNOWtutors and the YMCA Y-digital program, as well as funders like the NL Workforce Innovation Centre and the Department of Immigration, Population Growth and Skills, allow us to provide participants with more opportunities to increase their digital skills and knowledge.

Narrowing the digital divide aligns with Stella’s Circle core values of innovation, connectedness, respect, wisdom, and courage. Our Real Work programs and services at Employment Services use innovative methods to connect participants with the digital community. Offering a hands-on approach provides participants a safe space to courageously use their new-found digital wisdom to more fully participate in the world.

Thanks for the Chrome Book and headphones. I really appreciate that. They were helpful in making my resume, and I can now look for work online. – Transitions To Work participant

We’re working every day to narrow the digital divide at Stella’s Circle. Providing participants with the technology, assisting them in using it, and teaching them to critically evaluate digital content are all paramount. And by working with developers to design user-friendly and appropriate technology.