As in many other areas of the globe, the digital gap in the UK is a reflection of underlying socioeconomic disparities. The gap is especially pronounced among refugees and migrants, for whom access to infrastructure is just one of several hurdles to digital inclusion. They include problems including linguistic ability, lack of technological familiarity, cost, and lack of digital skills.
Many of the refugees and immigrants in the UK are from non-English speaking nations. They thus find it difficult to utilise digital tools and platforms that are largely created in English. When the available digital skills training is conducted in English, this problem is made worse.
The Afghanistan & Central Asian Association (ACAA), an award-winning charity that supports the integration of many refugees and asylum-seekers in the UK, understands the unique challenges faced by these communities. Our charity is actively addressing this digital gap with our latest initiative, Digital Education for Women from Afghanistan and Iran, as part of our Women’s Empowerment Project.
As part of this programme, we are imparting computer skills/IT skills to refugee women experiencing digital poverty to help them find employment, volunteer opportunities, and other opportunities in the UK and to expand their knowledge base in computers. The sessions run every Wednesday from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at our Feltham centre. Women get a Certificate of Completion after completing the 12-week course, which is free since cost is a major barrier to integration. Many refugees are already struggling to make ends meet, and the purchase of digital gadgets and internet access adds to the problem. As of 2020, 9% of UK families, disproportionately more so in low-income households, did not have an internet connection, according to research by the UK Parliament. By the end of this year, we aim to enrol and empower 200 women by providing a culturally and linguistically tailored computer course.
The problem of a lack of digital abilities is the last one. Digital skills must be learned; they are not natural. Yet there are few possibilities for many migrants and refugees to pick up these skills. In the UK, 22% of the population lacks the most fundamental digital skills, according to a 2021 Ofcom assessment.
Although the UK government has taken action to address the issue and acknowledge the value of digital inclusion, the extent and size of the problem call for additional aggressive measures.
A Digital Skills Partnership has been established by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) with the goal of uniting businesses from all industries to advance skills for a competitive, all-inclusive digital economy. But there are still few targeted policies for migrants and refugees. Therefore, ACAA’s initiative fills a crucial gap in service provision. It adopts a progressive learning approach, allowing women to learn basic computer skills, skills for collaborative learning, and advanced skills like coding, app development, animation, etc. It also integrates monthly workshops on digital rights, digital security, digital use, digital health, and digital emotional intelligence to provide a comprehensive computer skill-based course.
Government programmes must also take a personalised approach in light of the special difficulties that refugees and migrants have when trying to access digital education. This can include giving students access to inexpensive digital devices and the internet, providing digital skills training in many different languages, and offering individualised learning assistance.
Even though government intervention is essential, the government cannot be solely responsible for closing the digital gap. Other stakeholders, including companies, non-profits, and people, must actively participate in it as well. Non-profits that already provide specialised digital education for migrant and refugee women, like ACAA, could expand their programmes with more financial and logistical support. Even individuals can contribute by volunteering to teach digital skills or by donating second-hand electronic devices like laptops, smartphones, PCs, and tablets.
ACAA’s Digital Education for Women initiative serves as a shining example of an active effort to bridge the digital divide for migrant and refugee women in the UK. However, it highlights that although the UK has made progress towards digital inclusion, there is still a substantial gap. Government intervention is vital but insufficient on its own. It will require an active and concerted effort from all stakeholders to ensure a society where everyone, regardless of their circumstances, has equal access to the benefits of the digital era.
By providing specialised digital education classes for migrant and refugee women, charities like ACAA are already making a huge impact. They do, however, often face resource limitations. These non-profits could expand their programmes and reach more people with additional financial and logistical help.
Businesses, especially tech firms and multinational telecommunications companies, may play a significant role by collaborating with charities like the ACAA and helping them with the provision of gadgets and internet connections, as well as by supporting efforts for the development of digital skills. Individuals, especially students from universities and other academic spaces, may also contribute by volunteering to teach IT skills.
To bolster their efforts, ACAA seeks partnerships with tech organisations, public sector organisations, NGOs, and local institutions like schools, colleges, and universities that can share their unique expertise, experience, and resources, including coding classes, digital communications training, and workshops by women in tech who can serve as role models for refugee women. We welcome contributions even from those whose focus may not align exactly with these areas