Digital divide is a social problem that speaks to the gap between those who have access to information via the Internet and those who, for various reasons, remain unable to get ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies). When it comes to Asia, the digital divide is no longer about the lack of terminals because smartphones are cheap and Internet connections are ubiquitous. In most developed countries, the digital divide separates those who have access to digital education and those who don’t.
Bridging the Digital Divide as Part of STMicroelectronics’ DNA
The strategy of expansion and growth that ST has implemented over the years has led it to operate in areas far from Europe, where economic and social difficulties often have repercussions on the way of life. ST’s proximity to the most difficult areas has led the company to a new awareness: its duty to use our resources and employees to help populations in difficulty.
The ST Foundation’s mission is primarily to develop, coordinate and sponsor projects that employ the use of modern sciences and high technologies to promote the fight against the Digital Divide, identifying informatics illiteracy around the world, notably in less fortunate communities.
To fulfill this mission, the ST Foundation created the Digital Unify Program.
Helping Communities Thanks to the Digital Unify Program (DU)
The DU program consists of the setting up computer training centers (DU Labs) in collaboration with local partners such as schools, NGOs, local administrations, government agencies, etc. Started in 2003, it reached over 600,000 trainees covering 26 countries by the end of 2018. In Asia, it has active projects in China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
To guarantee well-organized courses, ST needs cooperation on the ground, meaning finding structures in which to carry out the various courses. The ST Foundation offers materials, training, and all the necessary equipment.
Currently, there are two free possible courses:
- The Informatics and Computer Basics (ICB): a 20-hour computer literacy course with key learning objectives, such as searching a topic using Google and Wikipedia, sending an email, writing and formatting a paragraph in a word processor, performing a simple calculation in a spreadsheet.
- Tablet for Kids (T4K) – 9 to 13 years old. The goals of the course are: to provide children with an intuitive understanding of the potential of ICTs as a means for problem-solving and personal development, to help children develop basic ICT skills in writing, math and information literacy. The overall objective is that children finish the course with a tangible enthusiasm about what is now possible thanks to this new knowledge.
In addition to the free basic courses, the volunteers working at ST in India have developed some advanced courses on more complex concepts that will enable them to find a job and become an active part of their community, guaranteeing them the possibility of becoming financially independent. We are also aware that some students have particular problems or need special care. For this reason, other courses are being developed such as:
- Informatics Computer Basic for Blinds and Visually Impaired (ICB4VI)
- Informatics Computer Basic for Deaf (ICB4D)
- Tablet for Seniors (T4S): As many services are becoming “digital”, many seniors are not able to take advantage of them and they find the standard ICB course inadequate.
Creating a Better Future with DU Local Communities
The Local Communities (LC) project is one of the key initiatives of the ST Foundation. It consists of supporting the creation of a DU lab and a group of ST volunteers within each ST site. It aims to encourage volunteerism among ST employees and increase ST contribution to the communities where it operates, as well as at augmenting the number of DU beneficiaries.
“The main goal is to provide every citizens with the knowledge to overcome social, economic and technological inequalities and, thus, be able to achieve human progress and a dignified life for everyone.” Renato Sirtori (ST Foundation Board Member and Representative for the Far East)
Starting the First Asian ST Foundation Projects in India
There has been a noticeable improvement in the economic level of India in recent decades and today it is one of the major economies in terms of purchasing. However, despite continuous developments, over 260 million people in India still live in poverty the absence of proper education. The last decade has seen a progressive growth in the development of infrastructure propagating Internet connections, but the current internet penetration rate is still only 15%. Considering that the country’s population is around 1.3 billion, this is relatively low as almost 1.1 billion people are still offline. India continues to be the largest population of users not connected to the Internet. With the support of the Greater Noida ST plant, the DU program launched in the country in 2003. The main objective was to provide new educational opportunities and resources that were absent locally. The program is supported continuously and every year the ST Foundation invests in new partnerships to expand the portfolio of on-site activities.
To spread the DU program, the ST Foundation collaborates not only with schools but also with other equally important organizations, such as NGO’s (18 DU labs and 9 T4K labs) and prisons (7 DU labs), to transform & empower lives. By the end of December 2018, there were 40 active labs and the goal is to continue the spread of DU program by opening centers to add 10 more labs by the end of the year.
All this is made possible thanks to the support of 20 local ST volunteers who work with the Foundation, both for the Tablet for Kids course and for the classic ICB program. India will also host the first advanced ICB courses. Here’s what Manisha, an ICB student, had to say about her experience:
“I am from Kanjhawla, New Delhi. I am a student of the Digital Unify program which helped me acquire knowledge about the basics of computers. I was very happy after the completion of the course and got inspired to join other courses in the institution to develop my skills further. I always had an interest in teaching but lacked the required knowledge and qualification, so I used to volunteer for the organization and started spreading the same lessons that I learned from the ICB course. As time went by, people liked what I was doing and I got the opportunity to work as a proper trainer for the Digital Unify Program at the Navjyoti India Foundation. I thank both NIF and STF for drastically changing my life”. Manisha
Supporting China’s Countryside with the ST Foundation
With over 1.36 billion people, China is the most populous country in the world and it has the largest educational system in the world. Thanks to its extraordinary economic growth, it has gone from being a poor rural society to an innovative industrial powerhouse, although large rural areas mired in poverty still exist and access to education remains a problem in these regions.
Looking at this picture in 2013, the ST Foundation understood the need to start teaching programs to help these communities. Initially, the DU program was launched within the ST plant in Shenzhen, where a group of volunteers decided to join the team by participating in the first Informatics and Computers Basics Facilitation Course (ICBF) to train local teachers (volunteers). Also, every year, in China, the ST Foundation, thanks to the support partners and volunteers, helps local communities to have a minimum education in digital matters and continues the commitment to the creation of new Labs. The target is to open at least one lab every year and 2019 should see the sixth DU Lab.
“I am a middle school student. I came from Haoyi Middle School in Heyuan City. I attended the DU computer course soon after I came to school. Before entering middle school, I hardly had any contact with an office suite or the Internet. Through this course, I got a basic introduction to Office (Word and Excel) and the Internet, and it really interested me. Since then, I began to study computer by myself. Now I can use Excel to practice statistics and become a member of the learning committee. I will continue to study computers, and I believe that it can help me more in my studies.” Haoyi Du
Helping Refugees in Malaysia
Malaysia was among the first ST countries to support the DU Program. It started in 2004 with courses at the ST facility in the city of Muar thanks to some ST volunteers. The classes were created to help young orphans, the elderly, and the staff of the ST site. It ended during the first quarter of 2008, but in 2015, with the invaluable support of the Indian team, the ST Foundation decided to launch the DU community and to focus on the refugees’ empowerment. This project was possible thanks to a new collaboration with the Coalition of Burma Ethnic Malaysia (COBEM) and with the UNHCR.
“Rohingya Society of Malaysia (RSM) and beneficiaries’ of Rohingya community want to thank our partners at the DU Program for their generosity and for providing such a wonderful program. Our trainer’s got a very effective computer training course in a short period. We had to run two batches thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response, allowing us to group participants according to their age or status. Basic computer skills are required in all kinds of jobs and professions. We received feedback from our school students saying that they are now able to write documents, edit data, perform calculations, or use social media to keep in touch. Students are now looking forward to learn advanced level skills. This basic computer course is a fundamental platform to improve the way refugees communicate with people in Malaysia and their families abroad.” Bo Min Naing (a) Faisal Islam
Becoming part of the School Curriculum in the Philippines
The Philippines is one of the liveliest economies in South East Asia and there is an overall improvement in its living standards. Nevertheless, around a third of the population still lives below the poverty line (USD 1.25 per day). This also has a negative influence on the education sector as 3.8 million school-age children do not receive an adequate education Aware of this situation, the ST Foundation launched the DU Program in the country in 2012 with the main goal of bringing infrastructures and good quality education to marginalized sectors of society. As in the other Asian areas, the ST Foundation also has a continuous expansion plan in the Philippines. Currently, the labs are in two different areas, Cavinti and Calamba, and the T4K course has been recognized as an integral part of the curriculum at the Jose Rizal Primary School thanks to a partnership with the Department of Education of Calamba.