COVID-19: The need to boost digital literacy in Indigenous communities

University of Western Australia, Published Wednesday 17 June 2020,

Nilesh Makwana explains how the coronavirus pandemic is perpetuating the digital divide between First Nation peoples and the rest of Australia and what needs to be done to close it.

COVID-19 has highlighted that our ‘land of the fair go’ actually has a long way to go.

Amid enforced COVID-19 social distancing, isolation and lockdown restrictions, the digital world has very much been a lifeline to the ‘real world’ for many Australians.

From receiving vital COVID-19 information via mobile phone apps and accessing the internet to book the delivery of essential goods to enabling working from home or continuing schooling with online remote learning, never before has our reliance on technology been so apparent.

But not all Australians have had equal opportunity to harness this power of digital connection.

In some remote Aboriginal communities, just six per cent of residents have a computer and as few as two per cent have internet connection.

While mobile phone use is slightly higher, with 43 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities owning a smartphone, these statistics are still significantly lower than the rest of Australia’s population.

Even more worrying is the fact that most of the country’s real-time pandemic response communications have been facilitated online, either via the official Australian government WhatsApp channel for COVID-19, the Coronavirus Australia app and most recently the launch of the COVIDSafe app.

Without widespread access or technology know-how, COVID-19 has exacerbated the already existing digital literacy divide among our First Nation people.

And it’s just the latest pandemic to disproportionately impact one of our country’s most vulnerable populations.

How much wider must the gap get and how many more pandemics will it take before we set our public policy priorities straight?

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