Under the banner of Digital Poland of Equal Opportunities (Polska Cyfrowa Równych Szans – PCRS) the “Cities on the Internet” Association (COI) launched a social campaign for the digital education of adult Poles, which rests on locality and the involvement of “Lighthouse Keepers”: local digital champions tasked with introducing 50+ adults from their own communities into the digital world.
According to both EU and national statistics, 91% of Polish businesses are online (2009 EU average: 94%), sales online are less than 10 % of total sales and only 63,4 % households have Internet (2010 r.) while the EU average is 70%. In 2009, 61% of businesses and 21% of the households used Internet to interact with public administration.
What is more worrying, out of 38 million Poles, 10 million adults aged 50 + have never used the Internet. This means that the one third of Polish society does not use either the Internet nor countless services offered by the telecommunications and information sector.
If they were to come online, additional savings and benefits due to more efficient delivery of public services alone would amount to 1,5 % of Poland’s GDP. Closing of this digital literacy gap is critical as research shows that by 2015 90 % of jobs will require basic digital skills.
Research conducted in recent years has shown that contrary to popular opinion in Poland, the primary challenge for adult Poles are the mental barriers which inhibit them from making the first step into the Internet. They include:
In order to change the status quo, it was necessary to employ a new, specific approach towards adult Poles in guiding them towards the digital world.
PCRS, realized in partnership between the Ministry of Administration and Digitization & the "Cities On Internet" Association is an initiative to encourage the 50+ generation to make this first step into the digital world.
The novel approach represented by PCRS rests on locality, as adults are willing to participate in events in familiar surroundings: community centers, local fire station social spaces and even private homes. For that reason, PCRS requires the involvement of local digital champions - trusted by the community, creative, skilled in mobilizing support for local actions.
There are many certified computer courses on offer, but they all suffer from the original sin of being formalized, and being conducted by specialists – IT experts who focus on ability to use the hardware and software. PCRS differs from that model, demystifying preconceptions about drawbacks and challenges of using the Internet. A key element for pointing to personal benefits from the use of Internet is the identification of individual motivations and needs, only then followed by an effective training of technical abilities.
The ultimate goal of the project is to introduce 60 000 people from the 50+ generation into the digital world. The PCRS project is being realized with the involvement of 2600 “Lighthouse Keepers” – Polish local digital champions: trusted, creative local community leaders/animators tasked with introducing 50+ adults from their own communities into the digital world.
In the course of the project, each Digital Champion received certified trainingand goes on to create a concept of his/her own initiative, realized in cooperation with NGOs and local authorities, to encourage adults to enter the digital world in their own community. All digital champions participate in PCRS on a voluntary basis, however important contribution to the programme is made by partners supporting their actions, i.e. local governments and NGOs. In addition, the best 200 educational projects realized by Lighthouse Keepers in local communities are eligible for 18 month grants.
Activities of all Lighthouse Keepers complement into a nation–wide digital competence raising programme targeting digitally excluded, which at the same time will stimulate the demand for broadband access to the Internet.
The work of the Lighthouse Keepers is supported by the National Competence Centre, a social portal devoted to digital training of adults, equipped with the corresponding technical infrastructure, a research team and experts providing th Lighthouse Keepers with support in their daily work with the digitally excluded.
The "Cities On Internet" Association, while coordinating the actions of Lighthouse Keepers and maintaining the National Competence Centre, is also running an awareness raising campaign, addressed to the 50+ generation, demonstrating advantages Internet brings at work and in private life.
PCRS won the support of many senior figuresrepresenting the world of science, politics and culture, including former president Lech Walesa, former prime minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Commissioner Danuta Hübner and EU Commission vice-President Neelie Kroes.
The current Minister of Administration and Digitization, Michał Boni volunteered to participate in the project as a lighthouse keeper. As a recognition of the value of the project, during the 2012 World Summit of Information Society, the PCRS project has been awarded as a winner of the WSIS Project Prize in the category of Capacity building.
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