The Cabinet Office has launched a strategy that aims to all but eliminate digital illiteracy by 2020, an effort backed by major private, public and voluntary-sector groups
The government has launched an ambitious digital inclusion strategy that aims to reduce the number of people who are offline by 25 percent over the next two years, and a further 25 percent every two years after that.
Although the government estimates that just under 10 percent of the adult population may never be able to gain basic digital capabilities, due to disabilities or lack of literacy skills, the strategy has a goal of connecting everyone who is capable of being online by 2020.
“We do not want people to feel excluded, our mission is to make Britain the most digitally capable country in the world,” said Nick Hurd MP, minister for civil society, in a statement announcing the strategy on Monday. “A more digitally-skilled nation will help us to boost our economy and strengthen communities.”
So far 40 organisations, including the BBC and ICT companies such as BT, EE, Google, Microsoft and Vodafone, as well as public- and voluntary-sector groups, have signed the digital inclusion charter that accompanies the strategy. The charter commits these organisations to supporting best-practice initiatives, a national volunteering network of digital instructors and online skills programmes for small businesses and charities, as well as sharing best practice and use data and building the digital skills of people within their own organisations.
The strategy cites BBC research which found that 21 percent of Britain’s population lacks the skills needed to take advantage of the Internet. About one-third of smaller businesses don’t have a website, a figure that rises to 50 percent when charities are included.
The spreading of digital skills on the scale planned by the strategy could add £63bn to the UK economy, according to estimates by Booz and Co. cited by the Cabinet Office.
“Helping more people to go online can also help tackle wider social issues, support economic growth and close equality gaps,” the Cabinet Office stated.
One of the strategy’s tenets is that improving access infrastructure isn’t sufficient to get more people online, and that potential users also need to be equipped with better skills, educated to understand the Internet’s benefits and reassured over its dangers.
The strategy will aim to better coordinate existing efforts, while cutting spending for initiatives that aren’t working, according to Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office.
“There is a lot of great work going on across the public, private and voluntary sectors to help people and organisations go online, but digital exclusion remains a big issue,” he stated. “Maintaining momentum is not enough. We need to bring together and scale up our efforts, more than ever before. No single organisation can tackle this alone and only strong partnership across all sectors will succeed.”
Under the strategy, the government has committed to integrating digital inclusion into wider government policy, establishing a cross-governmental digital capability programme, improving civil servants’ digital skills and publishing a common definition of digital skills.
The government is to work with Go ON UK, the digital skills charity, to boost its partnership programme across the country, provide digitally inclusive language and imagery for the use of government, public, private and voluntary sector partners, and establish digitalskills.com as a central source of information.
The strategy also commits the government to collecting and publishing research data in order to reinforce the digital skills efforts.
“This strategy is just the beginning,” the strategy states. “We recognise that the changes required will be far from easy. Existing ways of working can get in the way, and many will need to change.”
Go On UK
Go On UK was founded in 2012 by Martha Lane Fox (pictured), counting Age UK, BBC, Big Lottery Fund, EE, E.ON, Lloyds Banking Group, the Post Office and TalkTalk among its founding members. The charity aims to improve the basic online skills of the estimated 16 million people in the UK that do not possess them.
At the time Lane Fox said the focus of Go On UK was to establish a consensus on what to do about digital literacy skills and keep publicising the issue and placing pressure on the main political parties.
The founding partners established a Digital Skills Charter, which aimed to establish, for the first time, the basic online skills required to move the UK towards “digital literacy”. These were defined as communications, “find things” (i.e. research skills) and personal information sharing, and include tasks such as using a search engine, email, online applications and accessing information on the Internet.
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