Closing the Digital Divide 1/15

Steve Maharey Social Services and Employment

5 December 2000

Hon Steve Maharey

Hon Paul Swain

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.