Digital Community Project tackles Digital Divide on the Ground

Minister Éamon Ó Cuív presents awards at Project's second-ever graduation ceremony

Dublin, 29 June 2006 - Éamon Ó Cuív T.D. Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs today presented certificates to 58 graduates who qualified in a range of information technology courses run by the Digital Community Project in Dublin's inner-city. The ceremony took place in DIT Aungier Street and the graduates of this innovative programme received DIT, Microsoft and FETAC awards, which will enable them to go on to the next level or into commercially viable employment. The project actively tackles what has been described as the digital divide and some of those who graduate will be employed as teachers in their own communities, using their technology skills.

Pictured at the Digital Community Project graduation ceremony in DIT is Wendy Gannon who received four certificates

The Digital Community Project - an initiative of Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) and Hewlett Packard - was established four years ago and is based in areas across Dublin's inner-city where access to computers is severely limited. The Digital Community Project was set-up following the success of DIT's Dublin Inner-city Schools Computerisation project (D.I.S.C.), which aims to reduce educational obstacles and potential limitations faced by inner-city school children due to lack of computer facilities. Following on from the D.I.S.C. project, the need to give access to technology at home, for students and parents, was identified. To this end, the Digital Community project was established.

According to Peter Byrne, Digital Community Project Manager, "The project is about bringing educational opportunities to people, rather than expecting them to come to us, and the approach works! We didn't tell them what they needed to know - we asked them what they wanted to know, and it went from there."

To date 18 high density inner-city flat complexes have benefited from the project. The Digital Community Centres consist of one to two dedicated flats within each complex, which are fitted out with computers, printers, scanners, access to high speed DSL lines and free internet connection. The objective of the centres is to provide training for the residents on site and in their own communities. The computer centre is managed by members of the community who have been trained in the necessary IT and management skills. There is also a full-time manager on-hand to co-ordinate the centre and help train local residents.

In addition, through partnership with Eircom the project provides broadband internet access to all of the communities. This access levels the playing field.  It gives both students and parents the ability to study and work in an equal inclusive setting close to their own homes. The availability of email allows those within the communities who may feel marginalised, to use the technology, in order to keep in touch with family and friends outside the community.

According to one of today's graduates, "It means when my children come and ask me to help with their work I can teach them and get information for them on the internet. I can also use the points I get to attend college to do social studies."

Another participant on the Digital Community Project said, "It has opened up a whole world of knowledge. I can now book things like flights, hotels, concerts online."

To date over 2500 participants of various ages have taken part in the 100 different programmes offered by the Digital Community Project - ranging from email, to basic IT to digital camera and videography. Out of this group, 200 people have already received accredited qualifications from DIT, Microsoft and the CDVEC. These graduates then pass on their skills to their peers by running courses in their own communities and thus improve the employment potential of members of their own community. Most of the courses take place in the centres, making it easier for residents to arrange child-minding etc. However, two courses are located in DIT so participants also experience attending a third level college and can access its facilities such as the library.

The project has attracted considerable interest both at local and international level with the model currently operating in Belfast where four similar centres have been established. Dr Thomas Cooke, Head of DIT's Community Links Programme, attributes much of its success to the real commitment of the patrons and sponsors who have been brought together to form a unique partnership of the business, educational, government and community sectors. The partnership includes Dublin Institute of Technology, Hewlett Packard, Dublin City Council, National Centre for Technology in Education, Dublin Inner-city Partnership, Eircom, Diageo Liberties Learning Initiative, Microsoft, City of Dublin VEC and Prodigy.

Speaking at the Graduation Ceremony, Dr Thomas Cooke said "Everyone involved with the Digital Community should feel a sense of accomplishment. Through this partnership, we have in a way transformed what were 'digital divides' in to, I suppose one could say , 'digital opportunities'."

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