Bridging the digital divide, serving vulnerable communities

Posted on May 31, 2021

The University of Pretoria Information Science Department students on the Information Ethics (INL 240) module are furthering their skills and helping bridge the digital divide in South Africa through partnering with the Occupation Therapy Department to reach the most vulnerable communities in Pretoria for the community service required of them in the JCP 202 module.

While not the hot-button topic that it used to be the digital divide in South Africa is a pressing issue, especially in communities that are traditionally underserved when it comes to infrastructure development. While a lot of focus is (and should be) given to preparing the children of South Africa how to be well online the adults in our capital are also victims of cybercrimes, bullying, phishing and other digital attacks. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only disproportionately affected vulnerable communities in South Africa, it has also hastened the implementation of online environments that citizens of South Africa are expected to navigate as part of their everyday lives. From vaccine registration to online school the digital divide is becoming an increasingly important problem to solve in South Africa.

The Department of Occupational Therapy is facilitating this training as part of a larger digital project development leveraging technology to access communities that have been historically silenced. Site managers for the Department of Occupational Therapy Marike Smith, Nthabiseng Ramodisa and Michelle Janse van Rensburg introduced Information Science students to communities in Daspoort, Mamelodi, Atteridgeville and the Pretoria inner city, where they serve young people preparing to leave school in historically disadvantaged areas, individuals with substance use disorder and communities experiencing displacement and homelessness.

Under their supervision and following the meetings with community members students Tshepang Saliwe, Mbali Kunene, David Oduntan, Siphumelele Sibiya, Tanatswnashe Gwetsai, Moleboheng Mpeko, Xander Nel, Rick Botes and Tshwaragano Senwedi received training from African Centre for Excellence in Information Ethics (ACEIE) convenor Ms Naailah Parbhoo-Ebrahim on materials from the Digital Wellness Training Toolkit developed by the ACEIE at the Information Science Department in the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and IT at the University of Pretoria. Brigitte Beneke, Carla Breytenbach, Nicole Green and Selma Muller, fourth year occupational therapy students on their community service learning module, developed a guideline with principles for conducting group session with various vulnerable populations.

These were used to supplement the training received, which focused on adapting the developed materials to the specific contexts that it will be offered in. This ensured that each member of the community will have relevant, accessible and applicable examples for their engagement in a digital environment.

As part of the JCP 202 module in the EBIT faculty the students have the opportunity to share the skills they develop as part of their undergraduate BIS Information Science degrees with the communities that are most in need of them in the month of June, with the facilitation of Ms Laetitia Cassells, Ms Helga Lister and the ACEIE communities can benefit from specialised materials offering contextually relevant materials to help bridge the South African digital divide.

- Author Laetitia Cassells
Published by Joukje Geertsema

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