In today's world, digital literacy is fundamental to educational success, however not all children have equal access to the right technologies, training and support to do well at school. Of children aged 5 to 14, only 68 per cent in disadvantaged communities have access to the internet at home, compared with 91 per cent of students from the most advantaged communities.
To help narrow this divide, a partnership between tech company SAP Australia and The Smith Family aims to support disadvantaged students to participate in an innovative digital challenge.
Young ICT Explorers is a program aiming to foster life-long digital literacy skills in school-aged children. Students in years three to 12 across Australia are invited to develop and showcase their best ICT-related project to peers, academics and industry leaders in a creative forum.
Seven in 10 students from high socio-economic status backgrounds either reach or exceed proficiency standards, while only four in 10 students from low socio-economic status backgrounds even reach them.
"There is a digital skills gap in Australia, and that gap matters," said Max Roberts, State Manager for Queensland and Northern Territory at SAP Australia. "Australian industry will require another 100,000 ICT workers if we are to meet the transformational demands of the digital economy and stay competitive".
At the same time, Australia faces a looming youth unemployment crisis, particularly in disadvantaged communities, Roberts says.
"We — industry, government, not-for-profits and educators — need to reach out and engage early, often and meaningfully to inspire young Australians — not for the jobs of today, but for the digital careers of tomorrow. Through our deeper relationship with The Smith Family, we feel we can equip thousands of at-risk youth with the digital skills they need to succeed in our new economy."
Speaking at the launch of the initiative, Queensland's Innovation Minister Leeanne Enoch said "I am passionate about digital inclusion because it is important that all of our young people can be part of the knowledge economy in the future".
Enoch said SAP's partnership with The Smith Family will ensure the Young ICT Explorers challenge reaches even more disadvantaged communities throughout Queensland and Australia.
"It's vital that disadvantaged students are supported to access the technology and training they need to fully participate in their education, and build the skills they need to successfully attain employment in an increasingly STEM focused workforce," The Smith Family's CEO, Dr Lisa O'Brien, said.
This year, Young ICT Explorers has grown from 800 to 1,600 student participants, with a record number of schools and projects registered. Forum events were held in eight locations across Australia with the upcoming national final forum bringing together state winners to be held in Sydney on 26 November.
The partnership will also establish a framework for additional organisations to support Young ICT Explorers and enable more young people to participate by 2020. Additionally, there is the opportunity to invite more employees of corporates to mentor young Australians and support them as they create their technology projects for Young ICT Explorers.
Additional Young ICT Explorers supporters include foundation partner Digital Careers, as well as sponsors Discovery Networks, the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), Symantec, CompTIA, Fujitsu and Soltius.