The Challenges Thunder Bay Faces in Achieving Digital Literacy and Closing the Digital Divide
Updated: Nov 27, 2022
What is the difference between the digital divide and digital literacy?
The digital divide is simply 'the gap' between the haves and have-nots, who have or don't have access to computers, mobile phones, and the Internet. Digital literacy is being able to use the technology available to us to meet our goals, be they personal or professional.
Digital Vibes (DV) believes Thunder Bay has a high level of digital disadvantage amongst our aging population and our Indigenous Peoples in terms of digital literacy skills and a digital divide.
This is potential across the entire region based on factors such as access, income, and education to name a few. What this means is that the city’s people may not be prepared to compete in today’s technology-driven economy.
The digital divide in Thunder Bay has a direct effect on our community’s social, economic, and environmental well-being. DV believes Thunder Bay's digital divide is not entirely caused by a lack of access to computers, mobile phones, and the Internet, but rather by a lack of digital literacy.
Digital literacy in a sense to perform work at their jobs or basic use of the internet or access to the internet. It may not easy for laypeople to be able to interpret the information they find on the Internet.
Digital Literacy Research and Insights
1. According to ABC Life Literacy Canada in 2019, 84% of jobs in Canada currently require the use of a computer and basic technical skills. Even low-skilled jobs increasingly require a basic level of digital literacy. Also, they report that many working-age Canadians struggle with problem-solving in technology-rich environments and that 1 in 10 Canadians do not subscribe to or have access to the internet at home.
2. According to the Indianapolis Recorder, being digitally illiterate impacts where someone works usually in an unskilled occupation where people are typically laborers. What this means is that their salaries are at or below the poverty line.
3. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Education on digital literacy, the Indianapolis Reporter stated that "the study found that adults who are not digitally literate are, on average, less educated, older, and more likely to be Black, Hispanic, or foreign-born, compared to digitally literate adults" As education of Indigenous Peoples is a key recommendation and priority of the region, according to the Northern Policy Institute's Northern Projections: Human Capital Series - Thunder Bay District, DV believes digital literacy and the digital divide will be the game changer for our Indigenous Peoples.
What this means is that Indigenous Peoples in the region are in serious need of access to and instruction of new digital/technological skills, but they also have to cultivate their digital literacy.
How do they do this? Where does digital skills training fit into the work of traditional Indigenous education systems, and how does digital technology contribute to Indigenous communities’ well-being?
The answer is a mix of both. Digital skills training will be seen as a way for Indigenous Peoples to bring knowledge and content generation to their communities.
But it will also be seen by them as a way for them to engage with international communities. DV's future research will explore recommendations to increase and enhance the digital literacy of Indigenous Peoples in our community and NWO. This is very difficult as First Nation communities have just 30 per cent of households with internet speeds that will allow them to participate in the online world.
The study also found that people who are not digitally literate:
have lower levels of income and lower odds of being employed than digitally literate adults. This is true for all levels of education, but the employment difference is much larger for adults with less than a high school diploma.
are more likely to be part of a family in which no one works.
DV has the vision to make Thunder Bay a digitally literate community where people feel confident making informed decisions and taking actions that will improve their social, economic, and environmental well-being. DV believes that everyone in Thunder Bay can learn to be digitally literate!
The city of Thunder Bay has a digital divide. What does this mean for our community?
Social disruption and social inclusion are two examples of how the digital divide affects our community. Social disruption occurs when individuals are excluded from the benefits of technology, including employment opportunities and services. On the other hand, social inclusion indicates the opposite, when residents are fully engaged in all that their community has to offer.
DV would like to help decrease the digital divide and create a more socially inclusive community for all.
An evaluation of Thunder Bay’s digital divide and lack of digital literacy skills, including problems faced
1) In Thunder Bay there is a clear divide between people who have digital literacy skills versus those whose skills are limited or not present at all. People in Thunder Bay may still be using print media to communicate due to their inability to use the web, email, and text messaging to easily send and receive information. There is a growing trend of people who are interested in technology but do not have digital literacy skills; they must rely on others to interpret what it means, adding layers of difficulty.
2) Those in Thunder Bay who have digital literacy skills can participate in the interactive aspects of the Internet with ease. The lack of digital literacy skills will make it very difficult for those people to ever become internet users and members of our digital world. What this means is that the digital divide will continue to grow in Thunder Bay and the gap between those who have and those who do not have digital skills, as well as access to technology, will become even greater.
3) The reason for Thunder Bay’s lack of digital literacy skills could be that the people in Thunder Bay have a lower education level or the level of media they are exposed to at home may not conform to modern communications standards. What this means is that some people in Thunder Bay may not have the information they need to learn how to use the Internet or how to read and interpret information from the Internet.
4) The people in Thunder Bay may be the victims of a lack of awareness regarding the Internet and its commercial potential. To get the opportunity to access information online, citizens must be willing to change their habits and use the Internet. The benefits of the Internet must outweigh their current experiences. What this means is that the people in Thunder Bay do not know to take advantage of the benefits of the Internet which could be very useful to them.
5) From the cost of computers and Internet service providers to the price of home Internet connections, Thunder Bay citizens may not be able to access information from the web because they cannot afford it or their needs cannot be met by what is available.
The Thunder Bay Public Library is a Digital Champion
The Thunder Bay Public Library is committed to closing that gap. They hope to expand the number of people who are prepared to do their part in today’s digital world. By doing so, Thunder Bay will be able to remain competitive and continue to support local arts, culture, and community initiatives.
Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) Digital Divide Program
The TBPL's Bridging the Digital Divide technology access program provides essential services for vulnerable people in Thunder Bay. The Library is a leading organization, with a proven track record of connecting people and communities through technology, and DV is pleased to be able to help them in their efforts to connect the most vulnerable of our population
The goal of their program is to bridge the digital divide separating those who can and who cannot afford technology by loaning devices and rocket hubs (wifi access) to those who need these items. The devices can be used for connecting people to online health care services, family & friends, job searching, accessing online books and other media, taking part in at-home schooling, counseling, viewing local and international news, and more.
Other Canadian Cities Digital Literacy Initiatives
1. Other cities in Canada are also working to improve digital literacy skills. One such example is in the city of Victoria, BC. The city’s IT department provides training and workshops to help residents learn how to use digital technologies more effectively. Cities such as Kingston and Kitchener/Waterloo also provide training and workshops as well such as these two cities.
2. Other cities in Canada are also working to improve digital literacy skills, including Toronto and Ottawa. Toronto’s city library, for example, offers a program that allows residents to explore the basics of coding and learn to develop simple applications. The City of Toronto also provides digital literacy classes at its museums, as well as workshops and instructional programs on using digital technology. Ottawa’s city library also hosts workshops and training sessions on how to get online and use digital tools to access services more easily.
3. Toronto also has an annual digital literacy festival, which is held as part of its Open Data Festival and is aimed at promoting digital literacy skills to help the community to get more engaged with their government and democracy.
4. Vancouver's efforts to improve digital literacy include teaching children how to code, creating a curriculum for teachers who want to teach coding, and funding a program that allows students to learn how technology can be applied in any number of areas.
5. Montreal is also focusing on building more servers to make it easier for businesses and citizens to tap into the city’s digital infrastructure. This includes increasing the number of Wi-Fi hotspots and creating an online forum where people can ask questions and get answers.
6. Edmonton plans to create a new entity that will act as a centralized hub for information on how to use technology more effectively. As part of its efforts to improve digital literacy and social inclusion among refugees, the City of Edmonton has also partnered with the VSAAC Society and the University of Alberta's Faculty of Extension to bring workshops on how to use digital devices like computers and smartphones
7. Saskatoon has a digital literacy program aimed at helping people learn how to use the Internet more effectively. For example, the city is providing training on how to use the Internet and social media to help build community cohesion and civic engagement.
8. Regina is also working on building up its digital skills and infrastructure to become a more digitally literate city.
9. Ottawa has a long-standing digital literacy program, which aims at empowering youth and adults to access digital resources more easily.
Northwestern Ontario Innovation Centre (NOIC) is the Voice & ICT Leader in the Region
The NOIC provides several programs that are designed to support NWO companies and people working to help with ICT. They provide various programs to help foster innovation, entrepreneurship, digital literacy, and professional development opportunities for people in the region who want to harness ICT. These programs also help support the local economy by helping to create and retain jobs in the ICT sector.
The NOIC is also targeting several under-represented groups including women, Indigenous peoples, and immigrants to help grow the local economy by providing them with valuable skills, training, and employment opportunities that will help them succeed in their careers.
The NOIC has a great commitment to helping to grow ICTN, enhance business capacity, develop digital talent & promote economic growth in the region.
The NOIC has programming focused on a regional focus for the advancement of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship including the growth of small businesses in Northwestern Ontario. It does so by focusing on the following:
1. Growing the Digital Talent Base
To help grow the digital talent base in the region, the NOIC is committed to working with their regional stakeholders in identifying gaps in the talent base & bringing in or developing necessary resources to close gaps. What this does is ensure that the region has the right talent and necessary resources to solve problems & deliver solutions.
2. Incubator Organizations
All incubator organizations play a key role in the development of ICTN’s in their immediate region. They provide support for start-ups and early-stage tech companies through a variety of programs, services, and resources.
3. Increasing Digital Technology Adoption and Awareness
The Business Technology Improvement Fund (BTIF) is a grant program helping regional small and medium businesses invest in ICT solutions. The BTIF program may be able to provide funding for your business to invest in new or upgrade to their technologies.
4. Education, Training, and Certification
The NOIC plays a role in the delivery of ICT education and certification through the following workshops in things like AI and the cloud.
5. ICT Programs
The NOIC has a variety of ICT programs targeting different age groups, sectors, and skillsets. What this means is that you can get the support you need to start up your own business in ICT or access professional development opportunities. The programs include: TechKids, Third Tuesdays, Free Code Camp, Tech Week, Peer to Peer Groups, Disrupt IT. These programs are great because they provide valuable networking opportunities, training, and support for those who are in the early stages of their ICT businesses.
6. IT CONNECT
IT Connect is a database that offers the skills of local technicians, so you don't have to search for them on your own. It is a directory where you can search for the local people who can assist you with your technology and IT needs.
BENEFITS OF ICT CONNECT:
1) Many IT positions are filled without any public job listing. ICT Connect puts your skills in front of thousands of our region’s tech experts and businesses.
2) Gain access to information and resources that will help you advance your career in the field of IT.
3) Share your knowledge and expertise with fellow Techies!
4) Gain the respect of fellow Techies and gain a network of people to help you advance your career.
5) Help grow the tech community in Northwestern Ontario and make it easier for future employees to get a start in the field of IT.
6) Impress recruiters with your skills and qualifications.
7) Support the efforts to bring more tech talent to Thunder Bay!
8) Earn points towards a local and provincial IT certification! Many positions pay upwards of $100/hr.
9) Discover the IT jobs available in your region. Take a tour of our database and see what’s out there.
10) Share your tech job interests with your friends and family to help spread the word!
11) Access to tech jobs in the region (includes Thunder Bay, Kenora, Sioux Lookout, Dryden, Fort Frances.)
12) Supports the training of local technicians.
13) Rapidly get messages returned to you when someone has published a job.
14) Seamless online access to tech job listings.
15) Provides tech job listings from local companies.
Potential Recommendations for NOIC
1. Work with community partners to deliver digital literacy training.
2. Work with community partners to develop even more coding opportunities for youth and adults.
3. Continue to create programs that bridge the gap between school and careers through partnerships between universities, colleges, secondary schools, and NOIC.
4. Work with community partners to develop programs to teach data science and cybersecurity.
5. Work with community partners to increase digital literacy amongst senior populations and those with disabilities by integrating digital technology into everyday lives.
6. Further develop NOIC’s internship and incubation program.
7. Continue fostering increased digital literacy amongst the business community and the general public through hackathons, competitions, presentations, and workshops.
8. Work with community partners to develop programs that encourage digital innovation and entrepreneurship in the region.
9. Work with community partners to increase programming on digital skills and AI/ML
10. Continue developing outreach programs for young adults and women across the region including the TBCEDC.
11. Work with community partners to develop a program that helps develop a network of software developers in the region.
12. Work with community partners to develop a program that helps diaspora resettle in Thunder Bay.
13. Work with community partners to establish an outreach program that connects young adults and women to job opportunities in technology.
14. Work with community partners to implement programs that help young adults and women obtain higher education qualifications in computer science and data analytics.
15. Work with community partners to take the lead on increasing the digital skills of our youth through the Youth Employment Strategy.
16. Work with community partners to develop a program that introduces young adults and women to the field of ICT.
17. Work with community partners to develop a program that connects businesses in the region to graduates with technical training.
18. Work with community partners to develop an outreach program for immigrants to the region.
19. Work with community partners to facilitate the development of digital literacy programs in our schools.
20. Investigate the local RNIP program and the Norwest Connector program as 40% of Canada's ICT workers are immigrants according to ABC Life Literacy Canada in 2019.
Thunder Bay needs to improve the digital literacy of its citizens. How?
To achieve these improvements, DV will make a plan of action to reduce the digital divide and digital literacy in Thunder Bay. These steps are as follows:
1) Build awareness and expertise about the digital divide: DV has spoken to many people and organizations about Thunder Bay's digital divide. DV has educated these people about the importance of improving Thunder Bay's digital literacy.
2) Advocate for change: DV has been advocating for change in Thunder Bay. DV will hopefully meet with Mayor Bill Mauro to find out ways that DV can help overcome Thunder Bay's digital divide.
3) Learn from others: DV is going to learn from others who have already tried to solve the digital divide, including Toronto and Kingston. DV will look at how they solve their digital divide and then use that knowledge to try to improve Thunder Bay's digital divide. How did they do so? DV will learn from others and apply their knowledge to Thunder Bay.
4) Build a coalition: DV plans to work with a wide range of stakeholders to build a coalition of individuals and organizations that will help DV improve Thunder bay's digital divide. DV hopes to build relations with Telecoms to improve their broadband services which will hopefully improve Thunder Bay’s digital divide.
4) Partner in creating opportunities: DV hopes to partner with organizations in Thunder Bay to increase Thunder Bay's digital literacy. Some of these organizations are the Thunder Bay Public Library, TBCEDC, LSPC, and more.
5) Develop policy and programs: A digital literacy policy for Thunder Bay is needed.
6) Promote digital literacy: DV is going to do all it can to promote digital literacy. DV will promote digital literacy through public speaking, media statements, and blog posts to name a few.
7) Raise awareness: DV will use social media to raise awareness of the digital divide. DV will also aim to promote digital literacy in the Thunder Bay public school system.
The results of DV's plan to reduce the digital divide will hopefully change the way that people think about it and how it affects Thunder Bay.
DV believes that there is a need to improve Thunder Bay's digital literacy because it affects people's life. DV hopes that by working towards this goal, people in the future will live in a better place.
The Thunder Bay Digital Literacy Committee (TBDC)
To work towards achieving the digital literacy vision for Thunder Bay, DV believes we should form a team of community volunteers called "The Thunder Bay Digital Literacy Committee" (TBDC). This committee should be created to help with seven main tasks:
1. To identify the digital divide in Thunder Bay and to create a road map to reduce the digital divide.
2. To promote digital literacy and change community members' mindsets towards it.
3. To be involved in research and analysis of DV's digital literacy work.
4. To consult with other organizations and individuals to help solve the digital divide problem in Thunder Bay.
5. To be responsible for the implementation of the Digital Literacy Roadmap.
6. To report back to DV on progress and to advise on the next steps.
7. To be a part of organizing events (e.g. conducting surveys, hosting workshops, organizing information sessions) to help achieve the road map.
For TBDC to function as a successful team toward achieving the Digital Literacy Roadmap, there must be an effective consultation process with other organizations and individuals.
Possible Solutions That Could Help to Alleviate Thunder Bay's Digital Divide While Improving Digital Literacy
1) Provide a free or subsidized internet service for those who do not have easy access to the internet.
2) Provide a mobile digital literacy program that will target the various communities of Thunder Bay
3) Create a central digital centre that will serve as a community resource and offer training in digital skills.
4) Provide digital literacy programs that teach people how to use the internet in a way that will make them more productive and valuable members of society.
5) Implement a centralized digital centre that will operate as an information hub for Thunder Bay.
6) Create an online digital resource that will offer information on the digital divide, along with programs and services that are available to help bridge the gap.
7) Conduct a detailed survey of the digital divide in Thunder Bay so that it can be addressed appropriately.
8) Launch an advocacy campaign to increase awareness of the digital divide and to make sure that it is not overlooked by any governments or institutions.
9) Develop a social marketing campaign that will be used to communicate about the digital divide in Thunder Bay.
10) The City of Thunder Bay should take advantage of available skills in communities across Canada through initiatives such as the Canadian National Digital Literacy Exchange (http://cndleexchange.ca). This exchange allows non-profit organizations to share programming, training, or other best practices that can help address digital divides.
11) The City of Thunder Bay should increase funding to digital literacy and digital inclusion programs aimed at increasing access to technology and skills, building the capacity of city staff to engage the community in online learning opportunities, and advocating for digital equity and access to information.
12) The City of Thunder Bay should conduct a census to better understand the digital divide in the city, to create a more comprehensive plan on how to address the problem.
13) The city should improve its outreach and public information services
14) Thunder Bay should develop a digital literacy strategy, which will serve as the main planning tool for all digital equality initiatives.
15) The City of Thunder Bay should create a digital inclusion leadership to help oversee all digital equality work.
16) The city should increase funding for digital inclusion programming.
17) Develop partnerships with other organizations that are working in the area of digital inclusion and literacy.
18) The City of Thunder Bay should increase access to technology and training to bridge the digital divide.
19) The City of Thunder Bay should improve its information resources, particularly those concerning digital applications for businesses and citizens.
20) The City of Thunder Bay should implement its digital inclusion program that will focus on education, training, and outreach.
21) The City of Thunder Bay should work with other organizations to increase access to technology in the city. This can include partnering with other organizations and discovering innovative ways to partner together.
22) The City of Thunder Bay should conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify areas where the digital divide can be reduced.
23) The City of Thunder Bay should work with the TBCEDC to determine which organizations providing digital equality can be supported on an ongoing basis.
24) The City of Thunder Bay should take advantage of existing tools that may be useful for bridging the digital divide.
25) Increase the number of digital training courses available to Thunder Bay residents.
26) The digital divide can be minimized through the use of various social media platforms and other technology that is currently available.
27) The City of Thunder Bay can reduce the digital divide through various web-related tools, including email and social networking.
28) To decrease the divide, LSPC should begin a digital Inclusion project which will train Thunder Bay citizens on how to use the Internet effectively. The city should also continue with programs to increase the digital literacy of its youth.
Thunder Bay is moving in the right direction when it comes to addressing the digital divide, but there is a long way to go before the citizens of Thunder Bay will all have equal access to technology and the digital skills needed to compete and function in today's economy and society.
The Canadian Digital Literacy Exchange is a great example of how Thunder Bay can take advantage of other cities' expertise and experience when it comes to digital literacy. It has already been proven that the CNDLE has provided many opportunities for those who are facing challenges with digital literacy, so Thunder Bay should look at other cities across Canada and see what type of programs they have established to address their own unique needs.
The City of Thunder Bay has taken several steps to start tackling the digital divide, but there needs to be more work done. For the city to address this problem, it must look at its overall infrastructure and find ways to provide equal access and digital literacy skills to its citizens.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Note that this blog post will be updated from time to time based on new information, ideas, and recommendations.