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Government Releases 'Digital Divide' Papers

Papers detailing the Government's work this year to close growing skills gaps between the information 'haves' and the information 'have nots' were released today by Social Services and Employment Minister Steve Maharey and Minister for Information Technology Paul Swain.

The ability to use computers and the Internet is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for many employment opportunities. Many New Zealanders lack the information and communications technology (ICT) skills necessary to gain employment in the new economy. In an information society, there is the potential for an inequitable distribution of ICT which exacerbates exisiting social and economic disparities.

The Ministers said that the Government has decided to implement a comprehensive strategy designed to enhance the capability of New Zealanders to effectively utilise ICT.

"In an information age, people who lack access to information and communications technology, or the skills and attitudes to make effective use of it, will get rapidly left behind," they said.

The first paper describes the groups in the country who are being left behind and gives a steer to the sorts of things the government needs to do to turn the digital divide into digital opportunity.

Among those groups are those on low incomes, people with low or no qualifications or poor literacy skills, and people living outside the main telecommunications infrastructure network.

"This paper indicates that this is not just about the division between rich and poor it is also about the division between town and country," the Ministers said.

The second paper is a stocktake of what has already been done by government to address the digital divide issue. It outlines work that is developing in the e-government, science and innovation and e-commerce areas.

Clearly there is a big role for education here. For example the Ministry has already spent seven million dollars on cabling for schools with 599 schools benefitting from this move. By the end of the year it's estimated that 60% of all classes will be connected to the Internet.
The government is putting a lot of emphasis on ICT professional training for teachers and is pilotting a computers in homes programme. The Education Minister launched the computers in homes project this year – it involves 50 families from Cannons Creek School in Porirua and Panmure Bridge School in Auckland. The families are being provided with a recycled computer along with training and technical support.

The idea is to create closer links between schools and homes as the schools will be overseeing the computer training for the students and their families.

Before Christmas the government will be unveiling its response to the Telecommunications Inquiry. One of the key issues will be how the government will respond to the Information Society Initiative recommended in the Inquiry. That initiative called for a coordinated strategy to address the digital divide.

"In the new year the government will be considering options for a strategy to ensure that all New Zealanders have access to new information communications technologies. And we will be making further announcements with targets and timetables in early May on how we will be going forward," the Ministers said.


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