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How can we use technology to bridge the digital divide?

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Currently, only 54% of individuals in the EU aged 16 to 74, on average, have at least basic overall digital skills (Eurostat, 2021). This worrying percentage is an average among EU member states that reflects clear differences between them: while Finland and The Netherlands score 79%, other countries such as Romania score as low as 28%. 

Meanwhile, one of the European Commission’s Digital targets for 2030 is set at a “minimum of 80% of the population having an overall level of basic digital skills.” Therefore, Europe will need strategic and aligned pathways within the next seven years to bridge the 26% gap between the current state of the situation and the goal. 

Technology is increasingly enabling us to carry out individualised learning and allows participants to learn at a time, location and pace that suits them best. Consequently, it can play a significant role in reaching adults who want to work on their basic skills in digital places. So, what can technology do to help bridge the digital skills gap

Following are some solutions for bridging the digital divide in the next seven years – so that Europe not only reaches this target but drives towards a digitally inclusive continent, where no one is left behind while the digital transformation continues.

  • The connecting power of the Internet: Possessing digital skills means having the means and knowledge to find, evaluate, use, share, and create content using digital devices. The Internet is the most popular and powerful communication technology – and the minimum means for a person to be online in the digital world. Through Internet connectivity initiatives, governments can provide affordable or free Internet access to underserved areas that are still not connected. Setting up Wi-Fi centres in community spaces like libraries, community centres and schools can also offer individuals a place to access the Internet, complete online tasks, and learn digital skills. In this line, technologies like low-cost tablets, e-readers, and solar-powered devices – among other renewable energy solutions – can enable citizens in off-grid areas to access digital content.
  • Digital Literacy programs: In-person, hybrid or fully online digital literacy programs provide training and resources to help people understand and effectively use digital tools which, in turn, empower them to access online services, apply for jobs, and communicate with others, among many other benefits. These programs should include updated approaches to new technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence Literacy, so that individuals receive the most updated information on how the digital world is evolving and how they can benefit the most from it. 
  • Holistic pathways: Technological solutions can also assess digital skills, recommend further training and match job opportunities for no-to-low-digitally-skilled users to improve their employability opportunities. Holistic pathways from assessment to employment provide an empowering journey for users, equipping them with the skills they need to succeed in the modern job market. In this line, DigiCo has developed Skillify – an assessment tool available for free to help individuals understand their level of digital skills. This platform has a friendly user interface and uses plain language as it has been specifically designed for low-skilled individuals. Once completed, users get a detailed report on their digital skills and personalised training recommendations to continue their learning journey. To complete this upskilling virtuous circle, DigiCo is close to launching Jobify, our new job engine solution that supports individuals with low digital literacy to find job opportunities that match their digital skills. 
  • Artificial Intelligence and its multiple applications: AI can positively impact the learning experiences of no-to-low digitally skilled individuals by applying AI technology as an asset for students to better relate to the course. Examples include voice-activated virtual assistants and chatbots that provide user-friendly interfaces for people with lower literacy levels, AI simultaneous translators that break the language barrier and make digital content accessible to all, and AI-powered educational platforms that offer personalised learning experiences tailored to individual needs.
  • Technology as an amplifier: Technology can bridge distances and languages while allowing positive change to be replicated and escalated. For example, our Collective is working on a Train the Trainers model to keep basic digital skills training curriculums updated for its end-users. Through models such as this one, a tutor can simultaneously train multiple other tutors in different locations thanks to the Internet and other technologies that enable online education. These future tutors will, in turn, train individuals in basic digital skills in their local communities, amplifying their knowledge’s reach and empowering their students in their digital journey.

Whichever the solutions each European country will adopt in the upcoming years, they will all require a multi-stakeholder approach: the digital divide is a highly complex issue that needs to be addressed holistically and sustainably, putting first the groups of individuals who are the furthest away from the digital world. Groups in vulnerable situations need to be at the centre of the solutions: therefore, co-designing solutions with and for them is a highly successful pathway. With co-creation comes creativity and thinking outside the box – two features that technology not only enables but maximises.

By implementing these and other innovative solutions, Europe can work towards reducing the digital divide and ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from the advantages of technology and the digital age. In these transformative years, it has never been more important to adopt a “leave-no-one-behind” approach to tackle the digital divide and drive society towards inclusion and equity. Our Collective is working on some of these proposed solutions to bring tech-enabling answers to this urgent need. Our goal is to ensure that we reach one of the most important targets the European Commission has set for Europe: to significantly drive up the percentage of individuals who have an overall basic level of digital skills to 80% by 2030. Do you also want to support digital inclusion? Then join our Collective today!