Digital Inclusion: Empowering Newcomer Families and Youth

November 27th, 2014

Di DanielsInterview with Di Daniels, National Coordinator of Computers in Homes (New Zealand)

“We often say that Computers in Homes is not about the computer. It is about developing social capacity, promoting social cohesion and building social capital.”

Bridging the digital divide means bridging an intercultural divide. Replicated in 19 regions across New Zealand, the Computers in Home (CIH) program provides low income and refugee families with computers and training. CIH recognized basic computer technology and skills as a passport to improved integration outcomes for immigrant children and their parents. During a recent Cities of Migration webinar, Generation to Generation: Empowering Newcomer Families and Youth, Di Daniels, National Coordinator of CIH, spoke to Cities of Migration about the meaning and impact of digital inclusion for refugee communities.

Cities of Migration: Being ‘connected’ is about a lot more than web smarts. How do your programs connect young people and excluded or marginalized newcomer communities to the mainstream?

Di Daniels: Digital literacy means having essential skills and being able to use technology, but being effectively connected is Digital Inclusion. Being connected is not always about understanding fat pipes, fibre optic cabling, the broadband network. Digital Inclusion is about how people actually get to use that. There’s also the rhetoric that anyone can take a mobile device to a library or hotspot to access increasingly free public Wi-Fi. But youth cannot accomplish School Certificates and University Entrance on a smart phone or tablet, even if they own one. Our work is changing that hegemony and the denial of need.

Families with school-aged children and youth without access is our focus so that those without computer and internet at home can research and produce homework to a standard expected at school and in line with their peers. Excluded and marginalized communities are those who experience the highest unemployment and all social ills that accompany that. No one denies that education is the key to changing the potential of people and communities at risk, but there seems to be an attitude that this will just happen by osmosis. For newcomer refugee families there is only a short window of time to engage high-school aged children in New Zealand education before they find themselves on the street without a job, so these families are given priority onto CIH.

Families are chosen by the NZ Red Cross, approved by the Ministry of Education and referred to the local training provider, usually a Migrant Education Centre or Refugee Youth Centre. Bilingual youth are often engaged as interpreters for the training sessions. Some of these have gone on to being employed as Family Liaison visitors or in other roles by Red Cross. One young man form Burma whose family participated in CIH 18 months ago has been employed as interpreter and trainer for his ethnic language group in the latest intake of CIH in Nelson SI. He is 17 years old and has been accepted into Engineering School at University of Canterbury. Another young man, Dhan, took on the same role for the Nepali families and has picked up the job of technician and Family Liaison as well while he studies his Computer Science degree.

Newcomer families can experience an intercultural disconnect as the second generation becomes fluent in the norms and values of the new world their parents have chosen. Why is addressing the inter-generational divide so important and what lessons do you have for others running youth programs?

Di Daniels: The example of the students described above, their expertise and willingness,  shows the importance, not just for the elders but for youth themselves, of this sort of opportunity and responsibility. We also find there are holes in the ‘Digital Native’ argument that believes young people are naturally adept at all things technical and will teach their elders. Actually, young people are very good at doing what they like to do on the computer and internet, like downloading music movies and games, watching YouTube and engaging in social media. But when it comes to being adept at researching information and word processing to accomplish their assignments, their ability is lacking. This is why we stress to the parents that they also need to be good in these skills to help their children with their studies.

The best advice I can give those running youth programmes is to involve the parents in robust training and do not skimp on this. The other ‘must’ is tech support structures. I always tell parents to watch out when their children are “helping” them at home to never let go of the mouse. “Do not let anyone reach across and take the mouse and do it for you. You must stay in the driver’s seat with the keyboard and mouse in your control.” I remind the youth to be a coach for Mum and Dad, to be on the sideline coaching like a football or basketball coach. Coaches do not kick the players off the field and play the game themselves. A good coach corrects, encourages and leads from the side so that the player learns

We talk about the importance of young people having an opportunity to “give back” to the community. Why is this important, not just to marginalized youth but any group that may find itself on the margins?

Di Daniels: Some youngsters have volunteered onto local projects to help with training, transport, babysitting and administrative work. This gives them an opportunity to display leadership and to “give back” whilst giving them a sense of ownership and continuity. We often say that Computers in Homes is not about the computer. It is about developing social capacity, promoting social cohesion and building social capital. It is about raising aspiration, about empowerment and contributing to community.

It is about the Dad who looks into our eyes at the information session and says he never knew anyone cared about what was happening to him or his children; about the parent during training who rediscovers the joy of learning and shares her excitement with her community; and about the young Mum who bounces up to us at the end of her graduation and says “so how do I get a job like yours?”

Watch the full webinar recording and find resources for, Generation to Generation: Empowering Newcomer Families and Youth, featuring Di Daniels, the National Coordinator of CIH (New Zeland) and Agazi Afewerki, Agazi Afewerki, Director, Youth Empowering Parents (Canada)

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