Breaking digital barriers

A blog by Mehreen Saleen, Instructional Coordinator

With communities going online with their services and activities, digital literacy has become even more important than ever before. Lack of digital literacy has created an additional barrier for the vulnerable communities; accessibility to the benefits and services of civil society has become a challenge for them.PIRS works with vulnerable communities of Metro Vancouver, primarily investing its effort in the learning, development, and wellbeing of immigrant and refugee women. When the pandemic happened, the community we work with, experienced increased isolation, disconnection, and stress. The only way we could connect with them and continue to engage them in social and learning activities was through digital tools. However, the lack of digital literacy limited our clients’ engagement in our programs. For example, PIRS re-strategized its program delivery and started offering Community English Classes online which were earlier offered in-person at 9 different locations across Metro Vancouver. Our team of Outreach Support Workers and teachers connected with our clients individually, developed online resources and platforms that were easy to access, and went the extra mile to provide extended support to our clients so that they could begin participating in our online programs. However, we also realized that the participants needed to feel more comfortable and confident about using the new digital tools that they were using to participate in the online program. It was for this reason that we planned for 5 one-day Digital Literacy Workshops. These workshops were a part of the Digital Literacy Exchange Program that runs with the partnership of Pacific Immigrant Resources Society, Burnaby Neighbourhood House (BNH), and Simon Fraser University; and is funded by Innovation, Science and Economic Development of Canada.

These workshops were offered in 5 different languages including, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Mandarin and English. The workshops were held in small groups in-person and benefitted 27 participants. On-site childcare was also provided to the participating clients to facilitate them further. The focus of the workshops was to help participants develop skills and understanding to participate in Zoom Meetings and use basic controls on a web browser confidently. When participants came for the workshops, we also observed that many were using computers for the first time. Hence, our volunteers and staff also helped them with the basic computer skills like turning a computer on and off, naming different keys on a keyboard and using a mouse. It was fascinating to see how keenly participants took interest in these workshops and learned many digital skills. The participants not only showed extreme satisfaction from the workshop, they also request for more opportunities like this. And therefore, they have been invited to attend Digital Cafés which are regularly set-up at BNH as a part of the Digital Literacy Exchange Program. Some participants, who had recently received laptops, through PIRS were excited about going home and using it with greater confidence. PIRS looks forward to planning and organizing more such workshops in the future.