The digital divide and Pasifika

There is a move for New Zealanders to be fully participating in the digital world.  Our society is becoming increasingly dependent on technology – we use Google to search for health symptoms, a map if we’re lost, we use internet banking via a phone app and go on social media to get updates from friends and families near and far.  While the options are endless, there are concerns about rapid digital transformations and how those who are unable to access such technologies become disadvantaged.

The Digital New Zealanders: The Pulse of our Nation report highlights the large digital divide among New Zealanders, particularly those from low socioeconomic areas; Maori and Pacific youth; people with disabilities; offenders and ex offenders; people in the workforce without the necessary digital skills; and the older age group.

The report highlights an important issue:

“there is a growing inequality whereby people are digitally excluded due to issues such as access and proficiency with digital devices.”


What exactly does the term ‘digital divide’ mean?

“Digital divide is a term that refers to the gap between demographic population segments and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, and those that don’t or have restricted access. This technology can include the telephone, television, personal computers and the internet.”

A whole glossary of terms (such as digital engagement, digital equity, digital equality, digital inclusion, digital literacy etc) can be accessed on page 62 of the above report.


How are our Pacific communities affected?

The main reasons people are digitally excluded are due to cost, lack of knowledge or skills (leading to lack of confidence and lower trust in internet use), non-use of the internet (even when people might have access), and people being unwilling to provide personal details online.  Age and household income however are the biggest barriers to internet usage. An internet report in 2015  found the largest non-user group were Pasifika with 22% of Pasifika respondents indicating they had never used the internet, or stopped using it.  This contrasts strongly with Asians (2%), New Zealand Europeans (9%) and Maori (15%) living in New Zealand.

The report also highlighted 18% of low income families (with an annual income of less that $35,000) were non users, increasing to 47% among older low income families (Crothers, Smith, Urale & Bell, 2016).  Pasifika families are most likely to fall below the stated annual income of $35,000.  


How do we ensure our Pacific communities are not further divided digitally?

We know our Pacific families face extra challenges when accessing and using digital tools.  We also know there is not a one size fits all approach when it comes to digital approaches with our Pacific communities.  The Pulse of our Nation report and 20/20 Trust provide a number of recommendations in ensuring those who experience the greatest digital divide are not further disadvantaged.  

What’s promising is there have been many initiatives which have sought to reduce digital  inequities.  The Manaiakalani Education Trust in Auckland for instance has led the way in using digitally enabled learning to increase educational achievement.  Through the trust, the students get to own their own devices, with families paying as little as $3.50 per week to pay them off.  Another example is the free access to broadband internet in public libraries.  

While some individuals thrive using digital technologies and the internet, others may thrive with face to face discussions. From our experience, we know it is vital that we keep the relationships and the community at the centre of any design, intervention and/or research projects.  This includes being aware of what communities have access to or not – knowing these inequities early are key.  By having the very people the services are designed for involved at the very beginning ensures their concerns are heard and there is equitable access.  It is important for all individuals to be able to navigate their way around new digital technologies.