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Newcomer families in Canada and the digital divide (2022)

Posted on:
November 28, 2022

"In 2022, the Research Shop, in partnership with the Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership, conducted an investigative analysis to explore how the digital divide has impacted Canadian newcomers, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project specifically sought to investigate how and in what ways the digital divide has impacted the provisioning of programming to newcomers during the pandemic. Over the past two years, the public health
guidelines surrounding the pandemic have shifted service and program delivery online, resulting in an increased reliance on technology by schools, government, and social services. This shift can be especially challenging for newcomer families, who now must navigate a largely digital system that may be new and unfamiliar.

The goal of this project is to understand how the digital divide impacts newcomer families in the Guelph-Wellington area as they navigate accessing digital resources and programming, specifically in the context of the pandemic. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) defines a “newcomer” as “an immigrant or refugee who is adapting to life in Canada”, regardless of how long they have been in the country (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship
Canada, 2020a). For the purposes of our research, we interpret this definition to refer mainly to permanent residents and refugees, unless otherwise specified.

The objectives of this research project include:

  • Understanding which programs are offered in the Guelph-Wellington area and how they support newcomer families in relation to programming and technology;
  • Understanding how these organizations engage with newcomers and their methods of communication;
  • Understanding how the pandemic has affected newcomer Canadian families;
  • Understanding how to minimize the digital divide for newcomer families, particularly during the pandemic."

Findings

"Service providers spoke to several ways in which their organizations are adapting with the increased use and/or reliance on digital programs. Some ways they are adapting include: Utilizing 'Navigator Roles', Staff training, Mobile services, Sending clients ‘how to use’ videos for different technology platforms; constantly communicating with clients through different platforms, like by phone, mail and email, Providing tablets, chromebooks, wifi hubs to clients.

... participants emphasized that newcomers are not a monolithic group and that different groups will have different needs depending on their employment status, level of English literacy, and level of digital literacy, amongst other factors. To meet the needs of newcomers and to prevent issues related to language barriers, navigators and service providers who can communicate in various languages should be accessible to clients.

Additionally, funding is an important component and should be secured to ensure that various services can be offered. Through the research interviews, it became clear that organizations require more funding for English language training and for digital literacy training programs for
individuals with low levels of English proficiency. Furthmore, funding can be applied towards providing clients with the devices they need to be successful – e.g. laptops, tablets, cellphones, and wifi connections if they don’t have access.

Lastly, service providers could offer more flexibility in when services are offered and how to accommodate people who are working shifts and may not be working in an online environment. This likely means offering a hybrid of in-person and online service options as the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions loosen with time. As previously mentioned, people are more likely to come in person to obtain services. Continous connection and communication with clients is also
important in a virtual environment to help alleviate some of the distance felt when communicating online – e.g. sending clients ‘how to use zoom’ videos the day before appointments; calling and emailing with appointment reminders, etc. These are a few recommendations and considerations that could reduce the digital divide and increase
accessibility.

Newcomer families in Canada and the digital divide (2022)

Summary

This report explored how the digital divide has impacted Canadian newcomers, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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