Digital divide deepens

5 Dec 2003

A scientific survey by the Information Society Commission (ISC) has indicated that the digital divide in Ireland is widening with 74pc of people in the higher professional classes showing an acceptable level of ICT proficiency compared with 15pc of people in the unskilled manual classes.

The ISC has called on the Government to invest an initial €15m in supporting the rollout of ICT access and training to disadvantaged individuals and communities. Following this investment, it called on the Government to make a further €10m available annually to close the digital divide.

The research study, entitled Digital Divide – Analysis of the Uptake of Information Technology in the Dublin Region found that women have a lower level of computer awareness than men, at 48.9pc versus 58.4pc.

Less than one in five secondary schools provide any form of adult IT training after school hours, the study found.

People from a higher professional class are on average four times more likely to own and use a computer, compared with those from the unskilled manual social class, and 11 times more likely to feel confident around computers.

People with a postgraduate qualification are seven times more likely to use a computer regularly than those with a primary education only. They are also 20 times more likely to be proficient computer users and 12 times more likely to feel confident about computers than those with a primary education.

Home access to a computer is roughly twice the average rate among those with a postgraduate qualification, at 80pc compared to 40pc. And only 17pc of people who have retired have a computer in their home.

The study found that college and school students and those working for a living are more likely to have access to a computer (56pc and 50pc respectively), whilst all other economic categories are well below the average of 40pc. Only 30pc of those surveyed engaged in home duties have a computer at home, of whom 23pc are unemployed and 22pc are unable to work due to disability or long-term illness.

The report concluded that without successful, targeted government intervention, the uptake of computers and the internet many have the effect of exacerbating existing social divisions. This could lead to an ever-increasing digital divide between the various social classes.

CSO figures release last week showed that 42pc of Irish households have a computer, compared to 18.6pc of homes in 1998.

The chairman of the Digital Inclusion Steering Group at the Information Society Commission, Philip O’Connor, said: “E-inclusion is related more closely to basic competence in the use of new technologies than to computer ownership or home internet access. While the CSO figures released last week offer encouraging signs on internet usage, they are not reflective of the significant percentage of the population that have no confidence or proficiency when using ICT.”

By John Kennedy