Tackling the growing digital literacy gap
As we pass the one-year mark since the UK’s first lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, many of us have reflected on how radically our lives have changed. For some, that might have meant the loss of a job or being furloughed for lengthy periods of time. For others, it might have been a year coloured by loneliness and the experience of loss. For all of us, however, it has meant a change in the way we communicate with one another.
Pub quizzes on Zoom, work meetings on Microsoft Teams, keeping up with rapidly changing news on social media platforms, and endless WhatsApp message threads have become a part of everyday life for so many of us. The convenience of being instantly connected to one another has been invaluable.
However, because this shift in communication has been so swift, many have been left behind by a growing digital literacy gap.
Even before stay-at-home measures were put into place, crucial parts of our lives have relied on reliable internet access and some measure of digital literacy – job applications, booking driving tests through the DVSA, and applying to the EU Settlement Scheme to name a few. The trend of moving a greater part of our lives to the digital space over the last year has compounded this issue and has made the digital literacy gap cavernous.
As a social enterprise that offers interpreting and translation services, we’re heavily invested in the value of communication and the role technology plays in it. So, we spoke to Gareth Jones, a trainer with We Are Digital, to learn more about one of their projects to help close that gap.
We Are Digital is an organisation that provides training courses and one-to-one support to provide those without digital literacy the tools they need to participate in the digital world. In August 2020, they launched a project on behalf of Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council to bring those skills to the survivors and bereaved of the Grenfell Tower fire. 40% of social housing tenants are offline or lack basic online skills; so there was an urgent need to ensure residents could easily access the Kensington and Chelsea Council website as well as information and updates regarding the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry.
The 475 residents who took part in this training come from a diverse set of backgrounds, including a wide range of ages and nationalities. When We Are Digital began the project, they realised early on that there was also a language barrier some of their new learners faced. To overcome this initial barrier and provide better support, they contacted Clear Voice for interpreters. Alongside Clear Voice interpreters, trainers were able to explain and demonstrate over Zoom how to set up an email account, how to install a sim card into a mobile phone, and how to access online banking and online shopping.
The digital literacy gap will be an issue that remains with us for some time, but the success of this project demonstrates how organisations working together can help improve communication in all its forms.
 We Are Digital. https://www.we-are-digital.co.uk/training-courses/.