Bridging the Digital Divide for Edmonton’s Marginalized Communities

The Cause

The Idea is to introduce free, accessible virtual programming to and increase technological learning aids for marginalized adult learners in the Edmonton area. The Idea falls into providing support and opportunities in the following areas: education, homelessness, diversity, equality and women’s organizations. By providing adult learning opportunities to groups facing multiple, intersectional barriers, the Idea is intended to empower citizens to engage within their communities and promote continuous learning, creating a ripple effect of more student-led initiatives and success in the pursuit of academic and employment opportunities.

By looking after practical needs, such as access to computers, WiFi, and learning aids, students can then focus on contributing to their communities and responding to issues that directly impact their lives. Funding from the grant will be used to supply the hardware (e.g. computers) and software (e.g. learning and word processing licenses) necessary to enable students to access and take control of their own learning.

Funding will also be used to hire an Educational Development and Digital Learning Facilitator to assist students with technology troubleshooting, while also aiding instructors and staff to develop and refine the Association's current synchronous/asynchronous platforms. The Facilitator will help develop a platform that can be adapted and used by other learning organizations – a pay it forward aspect in the Idea. By combining curriculum innovation with technological expertise, the Facilitator will be a pioneer in the digital literacy field – particularly when it comes to adaptable models that enable further community connections among marginalized and underprivileged adult learners in Canada.

A portion of the funds will also be reserved to support student initiatives, enabling a new approach to activism, volunteerism and adult education. Students who approach the Association with an idea for a project directly relating to one or more of their online classes will be considered for financial support. Students will be encouraged to harness the web to tell and share stories and advocate for change on issues people are organizing around – from the economy, to criminal justice, to public education. There will be a great emphasis on digital arts and culture, and accessible programming.

Who Will it Benefit?

People with geographical and health barriers to education, as well as those who have previously faced stigma when pursuing learning activities (such as low income, or racially and socially marginalized individuals) will benefit from the Idea.

A digital literacy gap exists in Canada, with the greatest divide present in Indigenous communities, low-income families, and Francophones (Hadziristic, 2017). The gap is sometimes represented in physical barriers dividing those who have means to reliable transportation from those who are limited by their geographical confines. Most notably, however, critical thinking around digital information has become increasingly important in maintaining an engaged citizenry and interconnected community. It is clear that, while access to education and poverty are universal issues, some racial and ethnic groups face larger barriers than others. There is a correlation between neighbourhoods with lower incomes and people who identify as belonging to racial, ethnic and language minority groups. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these systemic issues related to equal access to education and community connectedness by causing social isolation and a technology barrier. When connected to education (or lack thereof), poverty contributes to unequal economic and social rights among Canadians.

With the extensive studies conducted on the correlation between poverty and education level, the Association offers a systemic solution that intends to engage the whole community and provide more inclusive and accessible opportunities for marginalized groups who have faced hardships throughout the pandemic.

With sustained access to online learning platforms, learners who previously did not have equitable access to education due to health risks, geographic location and/or socioeconomic status will now be able to connect with other learners, tutors and teachers.

The online learning platforms will be open to all Canadians, with an emphasis on support and inclusion for all racialized communities, Indigenous groups, temporary foreign workers, official language minority communities, and newcomers. The digital component will benefit people persons with disabilities, low income communities and rural communities. The initiative is intended for those who seek out social inclusion and learning opportunities, and are affected by social isolation, poverty and illiteracy.