Overall New Zealand scores well internationally on digital skills – but internal digital skills gaps remain
The MBIE/DIA report “Digital New Zealanders: Pulse of Our Nation” notes that New Zealand scores 6.2 on the Network Readiness Index for skills. This compares favourably with South Korea at 5.6, the USA and the UK both at 5.8, Australia at 6.0 and Singapore at 6.5. But while this index is useful for international comparisons, it is not helpful in understanding the digital skill gap within countries and which particular groups or communities might need additional support.
The UK has led the way in tackling the digital skills divide. The Government Digital Inclusion Strategy published in 2014 recognised that “being able to go online does not mean that people have the basic digital capability to use the internet to do things that benefit them day to day” .
In New Zealand, we have discovered a similar situation. In 2016, 65% of the 2500 people attending a Stepping UP basic digital literacy class had a broadband internet connection at home. While some people were seeking to upskill in their current job or work towards a new job, over 80% attended simply for general up-skilling. Around 72% of participants were women and 67% were aged over 50. The high percentage of women attending seems to suggest a digital divide within households, where some members have digital skills but others miss out.
In 2015, the UK adopted a new definition for digital capability, including five competencies: Managing Information; Communicating; Transacting; Problem-solving; and, Creating. The UK refers to these competencies as Basic Digital Skills. New Zealand has no agreed standard for basic digital skills, nor any measurement mechanisms. These are critically important in achieving a digitally included society, not only for people to engage with online services but also to achieve productivity gains for business.
Productivity research carried out by KnowledgeWeaversNZ in 2010 for the New Zealand Computer Society concluded that if New Zealanders were more confident in using ICT, they could save as much as 38 minutes a day in time saved, with an estimated Return on Investment of 162%.
New Zealand participates in the OECD Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). This involves a survey of at least 5000 adults aged 16-65 in each participating country. The latest survey was carried out in New Zealand from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015 and, for the first time, an assessment of skills for information processing in technology-rich environments was included. This was an attempt by the OECD to recognise the global shift into digital environments and the need for different skill-sets than those traditionally monitored in literacy and numeracy surveys. The survey is recognised as the most comprehensive international survey of adult skills that has ever been undertaken.
Of the 34 countries in the survey, New Zealand had the largest percentage of adults who were proficient at Level 2 and 3 (42% compared to an OECD average of 25%). While this measure lacks the specificity needed to assess proficiency for education, the workplace or for digital citizens, it does provide valuable international comparison. Furthermore, the assessment tool is available online for countries or individual communities to self-assess on an ongoing basis.
The Alliance’s Stepping UP programme, run in partnership with libraries and other community centres nationwide, gives people an easy, accessible way to build their digital skills in areas relevant to their life, work and interests.