On Thursday 25 June, we officially launched Women in Identity in New Zealand and Australia, hosted and facilitated by Andrew Weaver, Executive Director of Digital Identity NZ. We chose to focus on Digital Equality in Aotearoa (Maori name for New Zealand) and our panel of amazing women brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to the table:
Kim Connolly-Stone, Policy Director at Internet NZ;
Pamela Moss, Director of Planning at the University of Auckland;
Janelle Riki-Waaka, Relationships Manager and Kaihuawaere at CORE Education;
Elena Higgison, Principal Advisor on the Digital Identity Transition Programme at the Department of Internal Affairs and
Kaye-Maree Dunn, Engagement Specialist and Founder of Āhau
What is creating the digital divide?
We see a lot of digital transformation but rarely does it focus on diversity and inclusion. The panel looked at issues that are widening the digital divide in our country:
- Reliable and affordable internet connectivity is essential in New Zealand to narrow the digital divide
- Access to digital devices and resources is essential if our tamariki (“children and young people”) are to have equitable opportunities to learning
- A big chunk of those underserved in our communities are indigenous people and our education system has not been designed for them
- The need to differentiate between diversity (who is in the room) and equity (who is trying to get in the room)
- The gap between our younger generation’s learning vs their parents’, especially among indigenous people, is creating a digital divide that can lead to a breakdown in bonding
- A need to focus on broadening our workforce to bring in more indigenous people
- How to diversify the tech industry by addressing the mathematics literacy gap, starting with schools
- Learn from community leaders that are addressing digital inclusion and participation
Education is key …
We focused much of our discussions on education and home learning (specifically online learning). The gaps that exist today may have a huge impact on the future of our communities. These were my main takeaways from the session:
Janelle highlighted that the education system was not actually designed to be inclusive of, and accessible to, indigenous people, it was designed from a Western perspective and the content and the way we deliver it becomes a barrier. Add in a requirement for access to technology and financial means and we start to pile inequality on top of inequality. The divide between the “haves” and “have nots” is going to have to change at a fundamental level. We cannot afford to allow the next generation to enter the workforce already disadvantaged. Many of those already affected are indigenous people. Inclusion needs to start with them – not see them as an exception. We cannot choose one ’identity’ or one world view on which to build our society.
Pamela noted we could do more to diversify our workforces by improving the levels of mathematics literacy throughout the education system. Many digital products and solutions would benefit from greater diversity in thinking. This can only come from a more diverse workforce. We need to change the pedagogy of teaching and learning. If we want a wider range of people to engage in the tech sector, we need to figure out how to teach them better!
…. but we also need more, affordable, technology
On availability of devices, we agreed that the government in New Zealand had moved quickly to get devices out to kids who needed them for home-learning. However, there were discrepancies between top-performing schools and those in lower socio-economic parts of our communities. Janelle has worked to support the Ministry of Education in getting devices out the door; the government ordered the kit for connectivity to support the new ways of learning but these arrived too late. Often the schools had already gone back and, in a large number of cases, users struggled to access platforms and materials due to weak internet connectivity.
On affordability, Pamela shared how this is a further barrier for many students. Some families simply do not have space for home-learning. Many have economic priorities higher than the, often prohibitive, costs of an internet connection. Even at University and College level, students struggled to access the platforms needed for online learning. There is a huge divide between the well-off and the non well-off.
On internet accessibility, Kim highlighted how Internet NZ were pushing for ‘internet for all and internet for good’ whilst trying to address affordability and connectivity issues in Aotearoa. The government needs to invest into this space. Having access to reliable internet should be as common as access to a reliable power connection. As a country we are not there yet.
Elena shared that we need to take an “inside out approach”. We need to reimagine a future state where those that are impacted most by exclusion can work alongside community leaders to design solutions that reflect the needs of all.
- Policy and decision makers need to visibly ‘walk the talk’.
- Encourage our entrepreneurs to do amazing things within the public sector
- Work closely with the movers and shakers to diversify our workforces
- Amplify the work and leadership of those already driving change in our communities to drive for greater digital inclusion”
This Meet-Up was a session that sparked immense curiosity among those of us not exposed to the education sector, The conversation wasn’t about ‘how can we get more women into tech/identity’. Nor was it about ‘what is the best digital identity technology out there today’.
It was, at its core, about our communities and how we serve them better. As one attendee commented:
This has been an enlightening discussion for me on the wide-ranging considerations around identity. It has made me question my approach to “Digital Identity” which started quite narrowly on the basis of what individuals need to get verified online in a national system, often in order to access basic systems like government services, banking, etc.
Identity is about real people in all their diverse communities and we must ensure that every aspect of their ‘identity’ is considered – not just the elements attributed to them by their government.
A sincere and personal thank you to everyone who participated in this event.