Photo: Anton Kuba / UNDP Ukraine

By Oksana Udovyk, Oleksiy Moskalenko, Ievgen Kylymnyk, and Anastasia Sakharova

In the last 25 years Ukraine has built a reputation as a country of programmers – a leading recipient of outsourced coding jobs that rivals coding giants like India. More recently, with the smartphone and tablet computer revolution, Ukraine has also become an innovative producer of code used in popular apps around the world.

But the successes of Ukraine’s hi-tech present mask a problem that could grow in the future: There is a widening gap between old and young, men and women, and urban and rural people with regard to access to, and the use of the Internet and modern digital technologies – the Digital Divide.

How the Digital Divide opens: Deficiencies in access to digital technologies and a lack of basic digital skills are two of the contributors to Ukraine’s widening digital divide.

To study one aspect of the digital divide in Ukraine – digital literacy – the country’s newly established Ministry of Digital Transformation conducted a comprehensive study in collaboration with partners including UNDP, the Eastern Europe Foundation, EdEra and many others. The research threw up some troubling findings:

a) 53 percent of Ukrainians (aged 18 to 70), according to the assessment methodology used by the European Commission, have a “below average” level of digital skills;

b) 15.1 percent of Ukrainians do not have any digital skills at all;

c) Of digital skills, communication skills and information skills are the most developed among the population of Ukraine (both above 70%);

d) Problem solving and software development skills require the most improvement.

The study shows there is a disparity in digital skills among the population in terms of age: While 66.1 percent of Ukrainians aged from 10 to 17 have “above basic skills” according to the EC’s methodology, this falls to just 25.5 for the population as a whole.

The conclusion is inescapable: Older Ukrainians are falling behind in digital skills.

The digital literacy of society is essential for the use of e-democracy tools, increasing the accountability of public authorities, preventing corruption, and increasing civic participation. So levelling up digital skills – for everyone – is an important element in the development of a modern society.

With the aim of bridging this digital divide, the Ministry of Digital Transformation has taken up a remarkable set of challenges: to fully digitize public services; to provide 95 percent of transport infrastructure and settlements with high-speed Internet access; and involve 6 million citizens in digital skills development programs. On 24 December 2019, the ministry presented the National Digital Literacy Platform "Diia: Digital Education” which will launch on 21 January 2020. The courses, which will be accessible to everyone, are designed is to bridge the digital literacy gap and provide people with more opportunities to develop.

Getting connected

The UNDP Accelerator Lab supported the research into digital literacy led by the Ministry of Digital Transformation. Digital literacy has long been recognized as one of the key competences that citizens must possess. It is also one of the components of the Sustainable Development Goal # 4, "Quality Education", which is reflected in indicator 4.4.1 “Proportion of youth and adults with information and communications technology (ICT) skills, by type of skill.”

Our task was to provide human-centred insights on the issue, and to look at the problem through the eyes of the older generation. This approach provided valuable insights into emotional experiences, real user needs, and yields a clearer understanding of the problem – beyond demographic statistics and bar-charts.

The Accelerator Lab team conducted two hackathons and talked to citizens aged over 55 from Poltava and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts who expressed an interest in developing their own digital skills and taking a relevant online course. We learned that the e-services most in demand by over 55s are:

1.       utilities (digital personal offices, utilities payment apps, etc.);

2.       medical (finding information about medicines, writing to a doctor) ;

3.       financial (making money transfers, managing bank accounts).

From the hackathons, we found that the main motivations of over 55s in Ukraine to improve their digital skills were to keep in touch with loved ones, gain the opportunity to earn extra money, and to realize their own potential.

We also found that there are gender differences in our target audience. For example, men use computers more, while women prefer smartphones. Similarly, older women spend more time on the Internet than older men and show greater interest in developing digital skills: they seek help with digital technology more frequently and communicate with it more often.

Older citizens want to become more familiar with social networks and be able to engage in self-development through the Internet. Most participants also expressed a desire to communicate with the state online.

Of course, to do all that, older people have to learn the basics of working with computers and smartphones. But how can this be done?

Involving the children

An offline support system to help older people would be useful, because the complexity of the latest technology often puts older people off learning. Some organizations to do this already exist in Ukraine, such as IT-Бабушки (IT Grannies) in Odesa, which helps retirees diversify their leisure activities and become more familiar with digital technologies.

However, during communications with the older generation, the Accelerator Lab team learned that grandchildren are very often the ones who bring the older generations into contact with the latest technology. So, we decided to delve into the role of children in digital literacy among older people. Could children become the bridge between the latest technologies and the relatives who need help to understand them?

To find out, UNDP Accelerator Lab and  MLS Group, the research company contracted to support the project, worked together to study the "Digital literacy of parents through the eyes of their children,'' which was a complement to the large-scale study of the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine.

The study offered an interesting alternative understanding of the problem of digital literacy. Children's assessment of their parents’ and grandparents' digital competencies differed from the results of the ministry’s national survey: The younger generation tends to overestimate their parents’ skills in using modern gadgets and the Internet. At the same time, the children’s assessment of their grandparents' digital competency is more in line with the results of the national survey.

The study also showed that 47 percent of teenagers think their grandparents should improve their digital skills, while only 26 percent of the grandparents themselves see this as important.

And while 51 percent of children are enthusiastic about helping older people, some 26 percent would happily shift this responsibility to others. So while the role of children is important in advancing the digital literacy level of their families, it should not be left only to them.

Inspiring parents

UNDP’s Accelerator Lab favours a human-centric approach because it provides a powerful qualitative component to our research. Therefore, together with NGO Insha Osvita, we conducted four workshops with school kids from the cities of Ivano-Frankivsk, Kolomyia, Tlumach and Lysets in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast.

We asked the children, aged 13-14, to imagine what kind of digital opportunities they would like to see for their parents and themselves in the near future (over the next three years), and to formulate ideas to raise their parents' digital literacy and support them along the way.

The results of the workshops were very inspiring and creative: the teens indeed see the potential for boosting the welfare of their families through digital technology:

The participants offered their own ideas for raising their parents' digital literacy and, for the most part, focused on the opportunities that the internet could provide.

The workshops showed that, according to children, there is a fairly high level of parental awareness of the latest technologies, but they need to develop these skills and put them into practice. From the workshops, we also found that a digital skills training course that meets the needs of the population will have to promote the development of micro-businesses in the regions, create jobs, and increase the overall welfare of citizens.

The next step for the Accelerator Lab at UNDP Ukraine is to research and test new approaches to closing the digital gap in society. We want to create these experiments based on direct user involvement, and with partner organizations already working on the issue.

If you want to help, we want to hear from you!

If you have any insights on this topic or simply would like to participate in the design or the implementation stages of our experiments, please contact the UNDP Ukraine Accelerator Lab at acclab.ua@undp.org.

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