Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, is making €1.6m available to provide basic internet-related skills training to 30,000 people across Ireland who otherwise may not have access to these technologies and would miss out on jobs and better-value deals.
The new e-inclusion strategy by the Government has the potential to play a pivotal role in social and economic regeneration in recession-hit Ireland.
“I have decided to increase the resources originally earmarked for this scheme,” Rabbitte said at the launch of Age Action Ireland’s new computer training facility in Lower Abbey Street.
“I believe in investing in what works. Research by my department has shown that the investment we have made in similar schemes – working with the community and voluntary sector to deliver the training – delivers effectively on our objectives.”
Without internet access, many people on the fringes of society, including the unemployed and the elderly, could find themselves being denied a basic human right in the 21st century. For example, it would be harder to find jobs as most companies accept electronic applications and discovering better deals on services like car insurance is best done online today.
But is the Irish Government’s e-inclusion strategy ambitious enough in its scope? The UK, for example, is aiming to get every adult online by 2015 in a move it correctly has identified as key to rising the social and economic tide.
Last year in the UK, the UK Government’s digital champion Martha Lane Fox wrote a manifesto aiming to get the 10m Britons who have never used the internet online by 2015.
“The 10m people in the UK who have never been online are already missing out on big consumer savings, access to information and education. They will be even more isolated and disadvantaged as government and industry expand ever faster into digital-only services. We must change the mindset from the one that shields people from using the internet to one that helps empower them to get online and enjoy all the benefits,” Fox said last year.
New opportunities for citizens
Rabbitte similarly appears to appreciate how simple and basic internet skills could open a whole world of opportunity to the wider economy.
“This scheme will enable thousands of people throughout Ireland – people otherwise likely to be left behind in the knowledge society – to acquire the basic practical know-how to improve their digital skills. In particular, this will help older people, those with disabilities, the unemployed and other key target groups. They will learn to use the internet, email and how to conduct simple online transactions.
“Previous schemes show that learning such basic skills helps people in many ways – giving them new communication options, new opportunities to save money, as well as better access to a wide range of online services.
“We have also seen how such new skills and the opportunities that result from them improve people’s confidence and well being. More widespread participation in the knowledge society is a win-win outcome – with advantages for citizens, government and the wider economy,” Rabbitte said.
However, the success of the scheme will depend on how quickly and effectively the funding is allocated and the performance of the training providers who apply for the funding.
This scheme builds on the previous BenefIT schemes under which about 40,000 people have received training. The scheme is designed for the unemployed, older people, and those with disabilities, as well as other categories.
Under the BenefIT schemes community, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations or service providers can apply for grant assistance to provide the basic training outlined in the guidelines for the scheme. The guidelines set out the detailed requirements and how to apply, as well as how applications will be evaluated.
Applicants will need to be able to provide training to at least 1,000 people at a range of locations. Training will be available nationally. Training offered under the BenefIT 3 Grant scheme is designed to help people learn the basic skills to do practical things, like using email, using the internet to find the information, products and services that they need. As well as the basic internet training, trainees will also be offered a choice of training options, such as online transactions, etc.
It is envisaged that more than 30,000 people should benefit directly by receiving training under this scheme. The deadline for applications is Tuesday, 2 August 2011.