Gates Bridges Aussie Digital Divide
22 July 2004 at 1:07 pm
Bill Gates, Microsoft Chairman and the US’s second wealthiest man has launched an initiative to help people across Australia overcome the ‘digital divide’ regardless of their circumstances.
The project is called Unlimited Potential (UP). In Australia, Microsoft is partnering with community organisations The Smith Family, Australian Seniors Computer Clubs (ASCCA), WorkVentures, Inspire Foundation and Yarnteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Corporation, to provide more than AU$40 million over five years to build a network of community technology learning centres (CTLCs) around the country.
These centres aim to provide Australians who face disadvantage, with access to technology training, advice and support, enabling them to develop their skills and expand links to their communities.
Groups who will benefit from the program include senior citizens, economically disadvantaged families, youth-at-risk, isolated communities, indigenous communities and educationally disadvantaged sectors within the community.
Some 77 centres across Australia will be connected through Microsoft’s UP program. By 2005, Microsoft Australia says that that more than 100 UP centres will be established in cities, suburban and rural areas supporting local communities.
Bill Gates said at the launch event that Microsoft, through partnering with highly respected community groups, is able to provide much needed technological resources, skills training and support to people who need help in overcoming the digital divide.
Gates says Unlimited Potential can help make a positive difference to the lives of many who feel isolated through their lack of technology skills.
He says technology skills have become increasingly important in today’s workforce, yet millions of people around the world still do not have a way of obtaining these skills. Promoting digital literacy is of paramount importance to local economies. Unlimited Potential will enable both individuals and communities to realise their full potential by better understanding technology and the benefits of being connected to others.
Elaine Henry OAM, the Chief Executive Officer of The Smith Family says people used to be disadvantaged if they were not able to read or write. In today’s society, individuals and indeed entire communities can be marginalised or excluded if they do not have access to technology.
Henry says that simply providing access to computers and the Internet is not enough to overcome technological exclusion. However if access to computers and the Internet is provided through learning centres embedded in the community – be it a youth centre, library, housing facility or other convenient location – it may have an extremely positive impact.
She says bridging the digital divide can lead to increased tolerance, social interaction as well as greater cohesion and personal well being and skill development among participants.
With Microsoft Australia, Inspire has now developed 16 Beanbag Net Centres across Australia to provide thousands of under-served young people with critical educational, employment and social opportunities that are essential to their becoming active and contributing members to society.
Senior citizens are also in danger of being excluded from communities through their lack of technology understanding, according to Nan Bosler, the President of the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association.
She says technology offers a world of opportunity to seniors, but they often feel marginalised because of their lack of experience.
Indigenous communities are among the most technologically disadvantaged in Australia according to Yarnteen which began working with Microsoft four years ago to provide technology access to more than 50 Community Development Employment Projects throughout New South Wales.
As part of the Unlimited Potential program, Yarnteen will develop further opportunities that will improve technology skills and enhance employment and economic development opportunities for Aboriginal youth,” said Leah Armstrong, Executive Director, Yarnteen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Corporation.
Funding will be provided to centres to launch or sustain IT skills training programs, including hiring and training technology instructors and expanding course offerings. Microsoft has developed UP curriculum that emphasises real-world technology applications. In the near future, Microsoft will work with partners to launch a global support network to deliver technology research, tools and services to training centres worldwide.
Go to www.microsoft.com/australia/up for further information on UP and the partner details.