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The importance of digital education

The most relevant form of digital divide is the gap between urbanised and more rural areas, young and old, and many other groups. Any strategy aimed at tackling this issue must include digital education programs.

02/24/2020 - 12:38 PM

The internet has revolutionised the world, or rather, part of it. On our planet, 53% of people are internet users and can enjoy all the advantages of the net. That percentage is lower than we might imagine, for two principal reasons.

The first is the digital divide between different countries and continents, a divide caused mainly by differences in infrastructure. Ninety-four per cent of Northern Europeans are internet users, but just 68% of South Americans and 36% of South Asians are. In Central Africa just 12% of people are on the net (source: "We Are Social" report).

These disparities are due mainly to economic factors and a paucity of proper infrastructure in some areas of the world, which are still struggling to really join the new digital age. But there is another kind of digital divide, closer to home, within individual countries. This is the gap between urbanised and more rural areas, young and old, and many other groups.

Even in the United States, the country that pioneered the internet, 12% of the population has still never used the net. In 34% of cases, these are people over the age of 65. The figure drops off to 2% among those aged 18 to 40 (source: Pew Research). And in Italy? Things are actually a bit worse. About 21% of Italians do not use the internet (source: Eurostat). That's not all. Italy is 24th out of the 28 countries in the EU when it comes to going digital. That's because a quarter of families don't have a PC and less than four in ten Italians shop online (source: Istat, Eurostat). Nonetheless, 80% of Italian houses have access to ultrabroadband and 99% of the country is covered by 4G.

Here too, the least connected section of the population is men and women over 50, often with low levels of education, who mainly live in small towns and villages. But why is it important to involve more and more citizens in the digital transformation? One reason is that having a big proportion of Italians who do not use online services forces the public administration to continue to keep using paper for many things, with all its downsides in terms of costs and efficiency. Another is that they can't enjoy all the potential of the Internet of Things and 5G.

These are just a couple of the reasons why it is important to further digital education and enable Italy to become a smart nation in all senses: faster, simpler and more efficient. In a word, more connected. Among the projects to spread the internet in Italy is one organised by TIM, called "Risorgimento Digitale".

The year-long project began on 11 November, and involves three TIM trucks going round all 107 of Italy's provinces, from Trapani to Aosta, with a team of instructors on board. They will set up in every town square and teach people who are not confident with the internet how to use it, in order to spread greater knowledge of new technologies. They will cover everything from home banking, the Cloud and online government services, to certified e-mail and how to properly manage a secure social media account. All of this will be done through meetings and workshops, for a total of 20,000 teaching hours, training 100,000 people directly and another million indirectly.

That's not all. As part of the "Risorgimento Digitale", TIM recently signed an agreement with the Ministry of Public Administration to support digital training for government employees (in classrooms or through e-learning), as part of open government strategies aimed at developing truly participatory democracy.

The data on the total participants in the initiative confirm once more the people we most need to reach. Of the people who have so far taken up the opportunities to learn offered by TIM, 60.3% are over the age of 60, 31.7% between 40 and 59 and just 7.9% between 20 and 39. In terms of gender, however, there is hardly any divide overall, as 49.8% of participants are male and 50.2% female.

TIM is not the only big international company that has started ambitious projects to spread the benefits of the net. In the UK, BT has organised courses to improve the population's digital skills, collaborating with companies like Google and LinkedIn. In the United States, the telco giant Verizon has been helping families on low incomes since 2012, providing an ever greater number of young people with the tools to get online. In Germany, Deutsche Telekom has begun an educational programme in lower secondary schools, to introduce young people to digital technology and the technical and technological professions.

These experiences are all different but share a common goal: helping people who've been left behind to learn more about the internet and getting young people to use the net and social media responsibly, gaining invaluable skills for the future. After all, technology is still evolving constantly and a new world of opportunities will open up as 5G spreads. Everyone should be able to profit from the digital transformation and the immense benefits it brings.

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