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An Internet Connection Does Not Equal Internet Access

By Guest Writer on November 7, 2013


When we think about expanding Internet access around the globe, we often focus on providing an Internet connection. But what comes next? To use an Internet connection, people need to develop digital literacy.

What is a literacy?

Literacy used to be a fairly simple concept: if you had basic reading, writing, and math skills, you were literate. But the idea of literacy has expanded. We now talk of information literacy and digital literacy, and even financial, health, and civic literacies — literacies everyone needs to thrive in the 21st century. This growing list highlights the expanding set of skills people need, but it also blurs the definition of literacy.

When we talk about information literacy, we can describe it in terms of consumption, such as the ability to find and understand information. We can also describe it in terms of creation, which includes the ability to turn data into meaningful information and to apply that information to a problem.

Digital literacy is distinct from information literacy because it focuses exclusively on a digital context for both consuming information and creating content. However, when we talk about digital literacy, we typically focus on finding relevant digital content and spend too little time thinking about how to create digital content.

Why is content creation so important?

Lack of locally relevant content is a major barrier to Internet access. The first step to creating locally-relevant content is to make sure the content is available in local languages. Very few rigorous studies have been conducted to identify the most frequently used languages on the Web, but a rough estimate looks like this: over 50% of the content on the Internet is in English, and the next 30% of content is in Russian, German, Japanese, Chinese, French, and Spanish, according to a survey by W3Techs.

This means that approximately 80% of web content is in one of these 7 languages. But imagine you only speak Dzongkha, Aymara, or Malagasy. You can’t use most of the content on the Internet, because it’s created in languages you don’t speak.

To help solve this problem, many organizations have taken small steps to promote content creation on a local level. In Kenya, libraries are working to develop digital books that help young mothers teach their preschool children literacy skills. The program makes books available in local languages as well as in the national languages of English and Swahili.

This provides greater access to information for mothers who are not comfortable speaking or reading the national languages, and it helps children build literacy skills in the languages they speak at home. In Nepal, the Jhuwani Community Library is creating content about reproductive and maternal health, translating the content into local languages and setting the information in a relevant cultural context.

With increased discussion about providing access to the Internet, we need to remember that connection is not enough. Digital access requires digital literacy. And digital literacy must place at least as much emphasis on content creation as it does on content consumption.

This post was written by and originally published as Why an Internet Connection Doesn’t Equal Internet Access

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2 Comments to “An Internet Connection Does Not Equal Internet Access”

  1. This post raises two important issues in Internet accessibility: information/digital literacy and language literacy. Some of the older members of my family speak and write good English (and can type well), but they are uncomfortable looking for information online. They know about Google but they really don’t know what to type in the search bar. And even if they look for something they feel they will quickly get lost in the ocean of information that’s online.

  2. Leana says:

    I think this is an excellent point, and I feel like I really have to plug the organization at which I work: World Pulse. We are focused on empowering women around the world to make their voices heard, and to make sure those voices and stories are heard by important players in the international arena! The idea is to provide local, relevant, crowdsourced content, but currently most of it is in English and French (with google translate capabilities). I hope that next year, as we role out in multiple languages, we will be able to have more diverse content to allow for the kind of literacy you’re referring to!