The Covid-19 global pandemic has highlighted the digital divide between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities and the mainstream in Australia. But before 2020 started there had been little coordinated effort to provide the infrastructure and capacity building measures to allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities to participate in the digital economy on our own terms.
The Blak Tek Project has been developed with and by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People to address this need. We learned valuable lessons through the Digital Custodians project on how to best support participants to learn how to use technology practically on Country.
The aim of the Blak Tek Project is to equip Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander People and Communities with the skills and capability to close the digital divide and take part in the digital economy, allowing you to develop businesses on your land and fulfil cultural responsibilities.
The logical starting point for this kind of undertaking is digital literacy, which is defined as the ability to identify and use technology confidently, creatively and critically to meet the demands and challenges of life, learning and work.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities have adopted digital technologies in various ways, but this does not mean that we are digitally literate or included at this point, or have the appropriate infrastructure. In the absence of digital literacy this situation can continue without us even knowing.
In the paper Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and digital inclusion: what is the evidence and where is it?, Rennie et al discuss a number of interesting issues our Communities need help addressing:
· Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are more likely to be mobile-only users - more expensive; reduces communication; less digitally included re digital abilities
· For all their convenience, mobile devices lack some of the technical capacities of desktop or laptop computers. Tasks such as completing complex forms can be difficult; many web pages do not display readily or completely in mobile form; and work-related applications such as word processors may be difficult to access or use. It is worth noting that even those mobile-only users on high incomes and those with a tertiary education do not score well on the Digital Ability index against their counterparts with fixed access
· The Australian Digital Inclusion Index doesn't include those living in remote areas
· In a study of online education in remote communities, Rennie et al. (2017) found that digital literacy is not necessarily the primary barrier to online education for people living in remote areas. Factors external to course design and delivery—including digital exclusion and the motivations of students and education providers—can influence the success of online courses. While students in metropolitan and regional areas who chose to undertake online degree courses had similar needs to non-Indigenous students in the same courses, those from remote areas were more likely to succeed if provided with devices, internet access support (such as account credit), instruction on platform use, and some face-to-face instruction
Digital literacy also allows us to be aware of and critique the roll out of technology. For example, the Australian Federal Police have been trialling facial recognition technology that accesses photos from social media. Facial recognition technology has been controversial in the law enforcement setting due to its perceived racial bias, although my own phone uses facial recognition technology so that I can make a call. We believe the best way to eliminate racial bias from technology is to ensure the diversity of the people who are developing the software and deciding on the application of the technology in the real world.
Data collection and data sovereignty is another important issue for our People and Communities to be fully aware of, in conjunction with the possible application of blockchain to provide a number of solutions in line with cultural protocols.
These are strange times for all of us, but they also provide great opportunities to retool initiatives such as the Community Development Program so that our People can access training on Country that can link to definite jobs and business activity. Technology capacity building in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities requires a different approach to investment in the regions, as well as providing safer working environments in these crazy times.
We are looking forward to rolling out the Blak Tek Project and working with our People and Communities to access the technology they need, and use it in the way they want.
Thanks for reading,
Ben and Sean