Rural areas fall behind in Digital Divide
According to the latest release from Eurostat, rural areas are falling behind when it comes to digital literacy. According to the report, over a quarter (26 per cent) of people in the EU aged between 16 and 74 reported above-basic digital skills in 2021. In rural areas, this reduces to just one in five, while in cities, one in three people report above-basic skills in this area. This is the case for almost every country in the EU-27, with the exception of Malta, where a higher proportion of people living in towns and suburbs reported above-basic skills than those living in cities.
While the rural divide is still evident in Ireland, our position is relatively good compared to some other EU countries. More than one third (35 per cent) of people living in rural areas and 37.36 per cent of people living in Irish towns and suburbs reported having above-basic overall digital skills, compared to the EU average of 20 per cent and 23.93 per cent respectively), while 46.59 per cent of the Irish population living cities reported having these skills (compared to just 32.73 per cent of the EU-27).
Overall Ireland ranks third of the EU-27 for the total population aged 15-74 having above-basic digital skills at 39.69 per cent, behind the Netherlands (51.77 per cent) and Finland (48.13 per cent), and we retain that position in respect of the proportion living in cities, towns and suburbs, and rural areas.
The overall digital skills indicator is a composite indicator based on five types of skills: information and data literacy skills, communication and collaboration skills, digital content creation skills, safety skills and problem-solving skills.
When it comes to basic information and data literacy, which includes finding information, reading online news, finding health data and so on, Ireland drops to fourth place for the total population (87.48 per cent, behind Finland, the Netherlands, and Denmark), with the population of rural areas lagging five percentage points behind the city population in terms of skills in this area (84.45 per cent compared to 90.02 per cent).
Ireland is back to third place on communication and collaboration skills (91.57 per cent, behind Denmark and the Netherlands), which includes emailing, sending instant messages, social media and so on, with the rural population more than five percentage points behind their city-dwelling counterparts (88.96 per cent compared to 94.54 per cent).
For digital content creation skills, which includes using word processing software, spreadsheets, photo editing software, the proportion of all populations with above-basic skills drops considerably, and while Ireland ranks third in the EU-27, just over half of the population are in this category (55.96 per cent, behind the Netherlands (64.88 per cent), Croatia (64.43 per cent), and Finland (63.88 per cent)). The proportion of the population living in rural areas with this skill is more than 10 percentage points behind the population living in cities (51.58 per cent compared to 63.87 per cent).
Ireland falls to seventh place when it comes to safety skills, which include checking the security of websites, limiting access to geolocation data, preventing cookies, at 56.32 per cent, compared to top-ranking Netherlands at 71.51 per cent, and again the proportion of the rural population with above-basic skills in this area (51.51 per cent) is more than 10 percentage points behind the population in cities (63.05 per cent).
The final sub-indicator is problem-solving skills, including changing settings, downloading software, internet banking and so on, where Ireland is fifth (71.60 per cent of the population report above-basic skills in this area, compared to 80.99 per cent in Denmark). Here, the gap between rural and city-dwellers is largest, at almost 15 percentage points (64.58 per cent compared to 79.43 per cent).
Social Justice Ireland proposals
While Ireland compares well with other EU-27 countries, the skills-gap between cities and rural areas is concerning. We propose that Government invest in digital hardware and literacy programmes, including:
- Ensuring connectivity to affordable high speed broadband access right across the country.
- Developing programmes to enable all internet users to critically analyse information and to become “savvy, safe surfers” and a grants scheme to support low income and vulnerable households to purchase ICT equipment needed to access public services on implementation of the National Digital Strategy.
- Developing an integrated skills development, digital transition, vocational training, apprenticeship and reskilling strategy to meet the digital and green transition challenges.
According to Eurostat:
The Digital Skills Indicator 2.0 (DSI) is a composite indicator which is based on selected activities related to internet or software use that individuals aged 16-74 perform in five specific areas (Information and data literacy, Communication and collaboration, Digital content creation, Safety, and Problem solving). It is assumed that individuals having performed certain activities have the corresponding skills. Therefore, the indicators can be considered as proxy of individuals’ digital skills.
According to the variety of activities performed, two levels of skills are computed for each of the five areas ("basic" and "above basic"). Finally, based on the component indicators for each area, an overall digital skills indicator is calculated as a proxy of the digital skills of individuals ("no skills", "limited", "narrow", "low", "basic", "above basic" or "at least basic skills").
1. Information and data literacy skills
Definition in Digital Competence Framework 2.0: To articulate information needs, to locate and retrieve digital data, information and content. To judge the relevance of the source and its content. To store, manage, organize digital data, information and content.
Activities used for calculating the information and data literacy skills:
- Finding information about goods or services (IUIF);
- Seeking health-related information (IHIF);
- Reading online news sites, newspapers or news magazines (IUNW1);
- Activities related to fact-checking online information and its sources (TICCSFOI, TICIDIS, TICNIDIS, TICXND).
Levels of information skills
- Basic: one activity (I_DSK2_IL_B);
- Above basic: more than one activity (I_DSK2_IL_AB);
- At least basic: basic or above basic skills (I_DSK2_IL_BAB).
2. Communication and collaboration skills
Definition in Digital Competence Framework 2.0: To interact, communicate and collaborate through digital technologies while being aware of cultural and generational diversity. To participate in society through public and private digital services and participatory citizenship. To manage one’s digital identity and reputation.
Activities used for calculating the communication and collaboration skills:
- Sending/receiving emails (IUEM);
- Telephoning/video calls over the internet (IUPH1);
- Instant messaging (IUCHAT1);
- Participating in social networks (IUSNET);
- Expressing opinions on civic or political issues on websites or in social media (IUPOL2);
- Taking part in online consultations or voting to define civic or political issues (IUVOTE).
Levels of communication and collaboration skills
- Basic: one activity (I_DSK2_CC_B);
- Above basic: more than one activity (I_DSK2_CC_AB);
- At least basic: basic or above basic skills (I_DSK2_CC_BAB).
3. Digital content creation skills
Definition in Digital Competence Framework 2.0: To create and edit digital content. To improve and integrate information and content into an existing body of knowledge while understanding how copyright and licences are to be applied. To know how to give understandable instructions for a computer system.
Activities used for calculating the digital content creation skills:
- Using word processing software (CWRD1);
- Using spreadsheet software (CXLS1);
- Editing photos, video or audio files (CEPVA1);
- Copying or moving files (such as documents, data, images, video) between folders, devices (via e-mail, instant messaging, USB, cable) or on the cloud (CXFER1);
- Creating files (such as documents, image, videos) incorporating several elements such as text, picture, table, chart, animation or sound (CPRES2);
- Using advanced features of spreadsheet software (functions, formulas, macros and other developer functions) to organize, analyse, structure or modify data (CXLSADV1);
- Writing code in a programming language (CPRG2).
Levels of digital content creation skills
- Basic: one or two activities (I_DSK2_DCC_B);
- Above basic: 3 or more activities (I_DSK2_DCC_AB);
- At least basic: basic or above basic skills (I_DSK2_DCC_BAB).
4. Safety skills
Definition in Digital Competence Framework 2.0: To protect devices, content, personal data and privacy in digital environments. To protect physical and psychological health, and to be aware of digital technologies for social well-being and social inclusion. To be aware of the environmental impact of digital technologies and their use.
Activities used for calculating the safety:
- Managing access to own personal data by checking that the website where the respondent provided personal data was secure (MAPS_CWSC);
- Managing access to own personal data by reading privacy statements before providing personal data (MAPS_RPS);
- Managing access to own personal data by restricting or refusing access to own geographical location (MAPS_RRGL);
- Managing access to own personal data by limiting access to profile or content on social networking sites or shared online storage (MAPS_LAP);
- Managing access to own personal data by refusing allowing use of personal data for advertising purposes (MAPS_RAAD);
- Changing settings in own internet browser to prevent or limit cookies on any of the respondent devices (PCOOK1).
Levels of digital content creation skills
- Basic: one or two activities (I_DSK2_SF_B);
- Above basic: 3 or more activities (I_DSK2_SF_AB);
- At least basic: basic or above basic skills (I_DSK2_SF_BAB).
5. Problem solving skills
Definition in Digital Competence Framework 2.0: To identify needs and problems, and to resolve conceptual problems and problem situations in digital environments. To use digital tools to innovate processes and products. To keep up-to-date with the digital evolution.
Activities used for calculating the problem solving skills:
- Downloading or installing software or apps (CINSAPP1);
- Changing settings of software, app or device (CCONF1);
- Online purchases (in the last 12 months) (IBUY=1 or IBUY=2);
- Selling online (IUSELL);
- Used online learning resources (IUOLC or IUOLM);
- Internet banking (IUBK);
- Looking for a job or sending a job application (IUJOB).
Levels of problem solving skills
- Basic: one or two activities (I_DSK2_PS_B);
- Above basic: 3 or more activities (I_DSK2_PS_AB);
- At least basic: basic or above basic skills (I_DSK2_PS_BAB).
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