A new report from Deloitte Canada found growing gaps in Canadians’ access to digital technology and skills development, as well as an increased threat to their online privacy and safety.
The Digital Equity report reveals that the gaps have a greater impact on certain Canadian equity-denied and marginalized groups, showing that it’s more than just a rural versus urban accessibility problem.
“The sort of demographic lines that jump out are age, ethnicity, income, and geography,” said Jamie Boyd, Deloitte Canada’s national digital government leader.
In late 2021, Deloitte conducted two surveys of almost 2,000 Canadians each to assess their access to and comfort with digital technology. The report found that Canada is falling behind when it comes to digital equity, and it drew attention to challenges related to access, affordability, digital literacy, and cybersecurity. It found these challenges disproportionately impact Indigenous peoples, people in the 2SLGBTQ+ community, racialized communities, recent immigrants, people with disabilities, seniors, and women.
Older Canadians are struggling to adopt digital skills, with half of adults over 65 feeling that they cannot protect themselves from cyber security incidents.
Additionally, lower income Canadians are struggling to access devices. The number of devices per person, on average, is about one. But when examining lower income households, with an income under $50,000, it declines to 0.7 devices per person.
“All of a sudden you’ve got someone at home who’s trying to do e-learning. And that person is sharing the computer with their parents, who maybe also are using that for their own continued education or their job. And so you start seeing pretty complex challenges that are very all over the place,” Boyd said.
The report also looked into online harassment, revealing that incidents of online bullying are over twice as prevalent towards minority groups.
Over 60 per cent of Indigenous respondents reported experiencing online bullying. The survey also found that more Canadians of Middle Eastern, African, or Asian descent have been bullied or discriminated against online, compared to white or European Canadians.
Deloitte adds that addressing harmful content that is not covered under cybercrime laws gets complicated. Content moderation or removal can affect rights to privacy and freedom of expression, and can easily slide into censorship. In fact, The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has said that nearly every country that has adopted laws relating to online content has jeopardized human rights in doing so.
Deloitte suggested that to combat false information and harmful content, regulations should focus on improving content moderation.
Apart from harmful content online, Deloitte also highlighted the lack of digital education and the tech skill gap that plagues many Canadians.
“Only 44 per cent of respondents under the age of 35 felt that their education can prepare them to succeed in the digital economy. And that’s the young people. So it does make it quite challenging,” Boyd said. Additionally, nearly half of respondents say they did not know where to go to gain digital skills.
Universities, colleges, and other post-secondary institutions can be slow to adapt to the changing technical skills needed in the workforce, explaining why many graduates aren’t prepared for new technology standards. The pandemic has worsened this problem, with just under 80 per cent of Canadian employers saying that it has changed the way they work, and that they now need more employees with IT skills.
The report suggested that education on digital skills needs to start at a young age.
“It’s essential that students begin developing their digital skills in K-12, which is often the first opportunity for young people to experiment with technology in a guided environment,” the company said in the report.
The report added that post-secondary education should build on this foundation of digital literacy by offering students a more advanced repertoire of digital skills that can be tailored to specific career interests. But digital skills are important to learn regardless of the career path. All post-secondary students should develop skills such as the ability to collaborate digitally, evaluate the accuracy of online information, and create content using digital tools.
Several interviewees spoke about the growing number of opportunities for post-secondary students and mid-career workers to gain in-demand digital skills, such as the ability to use online collaboration tools. They pointed to micro-credentials, bootcamp models, and other options for part-time or accelerated training to fit people’s varying needs, preferences, and circumstances.
“Canadians absolutely need to know how to actually go and work and live and prosper in the digital world. Forty seven per cent of people don’t know how to improve their digital skills. That’s not great…So our strong view that we put forward in the report is that Canadians need to know how to use digital technology safely, confidently, effectively, simply because so much of our lives is happening in the digital world and it’s continuing to evolve. So our view on that is that the Canadian education systems coast to coast need to have more standardization and frankly, better funded digital skills, education strategies.”