Australia: Union report highlights digital divide for public school students

published 24 July 2020 updated 9 June 2021

The Australian Education Union has published a report showing a significant digital gap during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of digital inclusion for public school students.

An independent report commissioned by the Australian Education Union (AEU) has revealed the persistent long-term gap in digital access, affordability, and ability experienced by many public-school students in disadvantaged circumstances.

The report, “Addressing digital inclusion for all public-school students”, by independent education researcher Barbara Preston, calls attention to how this gap goes together with other factors undermining inclusion. Those factors include low income, remote location, English proficiency, disability, and insecure or inadequate housing.

Whilst the  the move to remote teaching and learning due to COVID-19 highlights the lack of digital inclusion for many students, the report shows that this is a longstanding issue that has been, for years,  systematically ignored by the Coalition government .

125,000 public school students without internet access

According to this report, approximately 125,000 public-school students are without internet access.

Preston’s report findings include:

•Nine per cent of students with low family incomes have no internet access at home, compared to only one per cent of students with high family incomes

•Public-school students were more than 2.5 times as likely as Catholic or independent school students to have no internet access at home

•Public-school students living in remote areas were much more likely to have no internet access at home – almost one-third of the more than 20,000 living in very remote areas had no internet access. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students were much more likely to have no internet access at home—21 per cent compared with five per cent for all public-school students.

•Low family income is associated with many factors that make studying at home more difficult. These include: a lack of internet access and a lack of appropriate software and hardware; less well-educated parents who can help with school work; overcrowded or insecure housing without a regular place to study undisturbed; and the psychological stress on family members from financial hardship .

AEU: A damning indictment of the failure of the Federal Government

The report is “a damning indictment of the failure of the Federal Government to ensure that all students have access to the digital tools and resources that they need for their education”, according to the AEU.

The union calls on the Federal Government, as an immediate priority, to carry out a thorough digital equity audit to determine the impact on students of a lack of access to the internet and digital resources. This must be followed by a comprehensive plan, developed in consultation with the teaching profession and backed with resources, to permanently address the digital inclusion gap.

The AEU’s independent report is available here.