Over the past decade we have not only become a digitally enabled society, but a digitally dependent one. Every school, every hospital, every workplace and even every home depends in one way or another on digital technology to function.
In England, seven out of ten adults have used the internet in the last three months. However, critically, that also means that there are 11 million who haven’t. This shows that not everyone is accessing digital technologies or finding them easy.
As a Government, we must provide support to those who are digitally excluded, to ensure that they are not disadvantaged. As well as extending the reach of broadband access, we must ensure that there are opportunities for citizens to develop their online skills. It is our aim for every individual to be able to develop their IT skills to secure employment, to interact socially and to access Government services.
Baroness Estelle Morris’s Review of ICT User Skills, published June 2009, recommended more support be put in place for the 11.6 million adults in England of all ages and levels of education who do not have the basic IT skills to help them to get to grips with technology.
In response to the report, we have just announced new IT courses to give thousands of adults the confidence they need to go online. Online Basics is free, quick and simple. Broken into five modules it covers the basics, including using a mouse and keyboard, looking at the internet and keeping safe online. Importantly, there’s also guidance for people supporting someone completing the course, whether that’s tutors in learning centres or family and friends at home.
A pilot programme will run in Barnsley, Oldham, Gloucester, Devon and London for three months and we expect to roll it out across England in September. We are also investing £30 million extra in UK Online centres to support digital participation.
Digital technology, and in particular the internet, underpin much of what we take for granted in today’s world. Ensuring that everyone can access and benefit from them will be fundamental to the future success of both our society and economy.
Kevin Brennan is Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs