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Community demographics

Author - Peter Byrne


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The Digital Community Project

In 1998 DIT began an initiative in which it took unused computer equipment from its own resources for relocation to a school environment. They reconditioned the equipment and then distributed it to a number of schools in Dublin’s inner city. Since then, the Dublin Inner City Schools Computerisation (D.I.S.C.) Project has computerised 40 inner-city disadvantaged-status schools, and and in the process trained 700 teachers in a range of basic ICT skills. From this initiative it became clear that a gap existed with regard to ICT access for students outside of the classroom environment. As a result, together with Hewlett Packard, DIT started the Digital Community Project. The aim of the project is to provide access to information technology and exposure to the educational system for those who are marginalised, and the strategies of the Dublin Inner City Partnership can be seen as the vision statement for the Digital Community Project. The project works with a range of partners to deliver its services, which puts state of the art ICT equipment –including PCs, printers, scanners, digital cameras, broadband internet access and networking – in each of 11 inner city flat complexes. Through this access, it is also hoped to provide opportunities for jobs for participants.

The 11 flat complexes involved are Bridgefoot Street, Charlemont Street, Dolphin House, Fatima Mansions, Iveagh Trust, Michael Mallin House, St. Theresa’s Gardens, Whitefriar Street, O’Devaney Gardens, Dominick Street and Hardwicke Street. Most of these are situated in the Dublin 7 and 8 inner-city area. The partners in the project are Dublin City Council (who provide premises and infrastructure, benching, lighting painting, security, and funding for paper and ink); the Digital Hub (who provide the project with funding for technical support; they also provide software and training facilities); Eircom (who supply broadband internet access and technical support to the 11 complexes and pay for all charges); Dublin Inner City Partnership (who provide support and meeting facilities); NCTE (who contributes very sizeable funding for a ‘train the trainers’ programme together with professional advice and support); Hewlett Packard (who supply a range of state-of-the-art hardware to the communities, including computers, servers, printers, scanners, digital cameras and network facilities, and also fund the services of a full time project manager); and DIT (which administers the project and provides expertise and support through the Community Links Programme, as well as office, telephone and computer facilities for staff, plus the services of a full-time project director).

Since January 2003, all of the 11 complexes have been fully fitted out with hardware, which has completed phase one of the project. The second phase began in September 2003, which involves the delivery of training courses for the participants. To achieve this, the necessary software for the equipment had to be acquired, and a team of sponsors were set up comprising Microsoft, CDVEC, BTEI (Back to Education Initiative) Prodigy (who deliver the Microsoft IT academy programme) and Intutition (an Irish e-learning company who are providing training materials including an online learning facility). Microsoft supplied MS Office Pro on all the computers. In addition, gave access to the full range of courses delivered through their IT academy, which in turn allowed access to its new core IT course, IC3 (Internet and Computing Core Certification). This course has three basic modules: Fundamentals of Computing; Key Applications (Word Excel); and Internet or On Line Living. It is more suited to the clientele than the well known European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) programme for a number of reasons. First, most of the prospective students have not been exposed to education for a considerable length of time. Through ECDL they would have to undertake seven modules and seven exams, whereas through IC3 they do just three exams. Second, the length of the course is much shorter. Third, it covers a more practical range of subjects for the particular clientele.

In October 2003, 15 students began their first IC3 exams. Despite the very high standards required (80% for a pass), five passed their modules successfully. Over half of the students who did not pass got above 75%, which by any standards was a major achievement. Over half the participants were early school leavers. The Project has now commenced its train the trainer programme, funded by NCTE, and it is hoped that this process will allow residents to pass on their knowledge gained through IC3 to their neighbours both young and old, through an ongoing training programme.

There has been an opportunity to compare the model that has been created by The Digital Community Project to similar models in other countries with the help of Hewlett Packard. In November 2003 Hewlett Packard invited a number of countries with similar initiatives to meet and discuss their projects in Paris. Arising from this, it is clear that despite having less than a year, a very high quality product has been delivered in a very short space of time. Indeed, the project is regarded as highly innovative and successful by other players worldwide. In conjunction with the Digital Media Centre in DIT, funding was acquired to carry out an evaluation of the project. This work will be done by a graduate student. The results of this evaluation will be made available to all interested parties in due course.

In December 2003, the Information Society Commission launched a report into the digital divide in Ireland. The report was commissioned by a number of groups including Dublin City Council, The Dublin Unemployment Pact, Dun Laoighaire Rathdown County Council, Fingal and South Dublin County Councils. The reports authors were Truzt Haase and Jonathan Pratschke, both of whom are well known and respected Social and Economic consultants. In their report they compare a number of information and communications technologies (ICT) community-based initiatives which took place in Ireland over the last number of years. They specifically compare the government initiatives CAIT 1 and CAIT 2 (Community Access to Information Technology) with the Digital Community Project, and recommend that the Digital Community Project model be regarded as being of a very high standard and capable of addressing, to a very large extent, the problem of the digital divide in this country. (The full report is available from the Dublin Employment Pact at info@dublinpact.ie.)

The Digital Community Training Programme started at the end of Sept 2003. In a very short space of time, considerable progress has been made in the training of our clients. It is our intention to consolidate this training in the future. Already we have plans to integrate our current commercial courses with accreditation from DIT. We are also planning a teacher-training course with the DIT Learning & Teaching Centre to enable clients to pass on their knowledge to their peers. Again with the support of the Learning Technology Team within DIT, an online learning and communication structure for the communities was launched early in 2004, using WebCT. Within the Digital Community Project, e-inclusion has been embraced strongly, and it is our goal to continue to strengthen our engagement with the communities and partners.