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Could New Zealand be lagging behind in Digital Inclusion?

The latest report from Innovation Partnership has found that we might be falling behind in digital inclusion offerings.

With most of the world's industries moving toward digital, this gap could be excluding many New Zealanders from participating.

Author of the study - Digital Inclusion in New Zealand: Assessing Government policy approaches and initiatives - Catherine Soper says we need to take action before it's too late.

“If we don't address it as a country we won't be able to compete with other countries in the global digital economy.

By analysing New Zealand's strategies and reports since 2001, as well as looking at the inclusion strategies in the UK, Finland, Singapore and Australia, the study shows we have much left to do.

Digital inclusion is described as enabling people to use technology to create social and economic involvement, as well as to overcome challenges such as access, skill, motivation, confidence and trust.

The Government has been taking massive steps towards increasing Broadband accessibility, with approaches such as the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative and the Rural Broadband Initiative aiming to bring access to as many Kiwis as possible.

Even with these quality initiatives striving for equal access, the study found that comparable nation's are likely to overshadow us with broader policies seeking inclusion.

Soper says New Zealand's focus on access has been beneficial, but now it's time to step up.

“Much of New Zealand's focus until now has been on improving access. Now it's time to step up and ensure all citizens have the skills, motivation, confidence and trust to live and work in a digital world.

As of 2013, nearly a quarter of New Zealand households did not have internet access, with the largest disparities being found in the rural urban divide.

The digital divide has been leaving lower socio-economic areas in the dark since 2001; though progress is being made, the ability to engage with digital resources is becoming more crucial, says Soper.

“Those who are unable to utilise technology are at risk of becoming increasingly disadvantaged - they are less employable, have fewer opportunities to access online government, education, health or business services and miss chances to communicate with friends and family.

Soper says, being unaware of the extent of the digital divide is a dangerous notion, underestimating it could further exclude those missing out.

“As more and more services go online there's an assumption that we can all get onto our devices and complete these activities.

The aim of digital inclusion is to focus on all people having equal access and competency. Soper says, there have been improvements, but the gap is still glaring.

“The reality is it might be easy for me, harder for my Mum and almost impossible for my Great Aunt. It's vital for all Kiwis to have basic digital capabilities to operate in a digital world. Increasingly, digital is the way you communicate with family and friends, how you manage your health records , learn new things, do your banking and apply for jobs.

Learning from the successes of others could bring New Zealand's offerings up to and possibly exceed what's happening across the world.

Innovation Partnership is a collective network that aims to support digital innovation across business, education and government.

Soper says they will continue to gather further data to inform future initiatives as well as assess the success of current offerings.

With many of these initiatives targeting education, we could soon see a shift in focus that takes a step past improving access, and moves towards digital citizenship and competency for all New Zealanders. With many schools in these lower inclusion areas, the challenge goes out to educators to find ways to ensure their students are well equipped for life in a rapidly advancing world.

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