Improving computer literacy and building internet and communications technology (ICT) skills in Indigenous communities is more about understanding the opportunities rather than imposing "Western" style learning programs, according to a new study published in the International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments. The paper's author Michelle Eady of the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia, offers an 11-point plan to help those working with communities to adopt and engage with the Internet.
The internet represents an unprecedented opportunity for employment training and development across the globe. Unfortunately, there is a digital divide between the culture of the developed world underpinned by the technological nations of East Asia and people who live in indigenous communities, such as those in Australia, North America and elsewhere. Educators have attempted to close this gap by applying the same approaches used to bridge the digital divide in the wider communities of the USA and Europe.
Unfortunately, the educational methods of the West do not always translate well to indigenous communities, where they are not only perceived as imperialistic in some quarters but also fail to acknowledge important cultural differences. This is often compounded by the fact that many indigenous communities are disadvantaged by geographical barriers, government policies, language background, poverty, and health and technical insufficiencies, Eady reports. Eady has laid out eleven principles for working together with and assisting Indigenous communities to prepare and effectively and efficiently use ICT:
1 Develop an awareness and understanding of learners' profiles
2 Create opportunities for online learning communities
3 Ensure teaching materials have content relevant to the community
4 Support and enhance traditions and cultural diversity
5 Provide accessible, suitable and reliable technology
6 Make programs intergenerational and inclusive
7 Foster positive relationships, mentoring and support
8 Promote community-based learning
9 Encourage genuine government involvement and "bottom up" partnerships
10 Understand community goals, directions and development
11 Embrace Aboriginal ways of knowing and learning through Elder wisdom
There are many other considerations, but these principles based on research with specific Indigenous communities in Australia and experience in Canadian communities could be applicable to other communities abroad.
"[The research] literature has shown that the internet has substantial potential to deliver literacy, essential skills and tertiary training and education to Indigenous learners who live in remote and isolated communities, providing real-time interaction between instructors and learners," says Eady. She adds that the design-based principles outlined in her paper "provide sound guidelines for future research that engages Indigenous learners with learning opportunities involving computer technologies."
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