Digital Divides: Youth and Digital Skills explores technological barriers

Charlene Aviles, The Peak

July 18, 2021

SFU Public Square hosted their latest instalment of the 2021 Community Summit series: Towards Equity. This was in partnership with Telus, The Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship, First Nations Technology Council, and the Ryerson Leadership Lab.

Moderated by Sam Andrey, the workshop featured keynote speakers Kate Arthur, Howard Moriah, Simona Ramkisson, and Ken Sanderson. They discussed the factors contributing to the understanding of privacy policies and of access to the internet and technology, highlighting the impacts low income youth under 18 may experience without said access. 

Arthur and Ramkisson expressed concerns that youth were unaware of how algorithms and websites process their information. According to Ramkisson, youth seldom read websites’ privacy policies. Since Canada lacks legislation to protect children’s data online, Arthur recommended that websites simplify their privacy policy to promote transparency.

“If our children aren’t able to critically think about how their data is being used, who built the technology that is taking the data, and where that data is going, then we’re also doing that a disservice,” said Arthur.

As the Wikimedia Foundation’s manager of community development, Simona Ramkisson’s presentation focused on promoting digital literacy and access to technology through a multifaceted approach. According to Ramkisson, equal access to technology entails preparing youth with updated technology and digital literacy skills to protect their privacy.

“Digital literacy, in my opinion, is not just being able to get someone online but getting them into a space in which they can meaningfully contribute — so shifting that mindset from just consumption of taking on and taking information from these digital spaces,” explained Ramkisson.

To address youth’s inaccessibility to the internet and technology, Ken Sanderson, Teach for Canada’s Executive Director, suggested focusing on grassroots initiatives to increase infrastructure. 

Moriah added that accessibility requires affordable rates for Internet access, citing that low-income families often lack access due to costs. Compared to Australia, France, Italy, and Germany, Canada charges the most for high-speed broadband internet

Arthur, founder and CEO of Kids Code Jeunesse, discussed her organization’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic to promote youth’s access to technology and increase their cybersecurity. She said  temporary closure of Canadian libraries during COVID-19 was also a barrier to Internet access. Aiming to aid Internet accessibility, they distributed technology to students transitioning to online classes.

Sanderson said reforms regarding the digital divide, digital literacy, and privacy policies must be an inclusive process that involves all key stakeholders. He added governments must participate via funding to help bridge the divide. 

The full event can be found on YouTube.

This was published at The Peak on July 18, 2021.