UK survey looks at how race affects computer use

LONDON (10/15/2003) - People's ethnicity affects how they use technology according to a survey published today by the U.K. Department for Education and Skills (DfES).

The Use of and Attitudes Towards Information and Communication Technologies by People from Black and Minority Ethnic Groups Living in Deprives Areas targeted disadvantaged neighborhoods across London, Birmingham, Leeds, Bradford, Cardiff and Glasgow, and revealed that Afro Caribbean people (31 percent) were less likely to own a PC than South Asian (42 percent) or white (37 percent) respondents.

There was a distinct difference between how communities use their PCs. A massive 71 percent of people from minority ethnic groups used their home computer for educational purposes, compared to 61 percent of white people.

One issue that needs to be addressed by the government concerns the poor number of Asian people who used public computer access. The fact that almost half of those questioned already owned a PC may be a strong reason why they did not attend public centers. But it may also be down to center locations and language barriers, which are generally of concern to older users.

"Many people regard internet cafes and U.K. Online centers as not for them. Older Asian women, for example, would be more likely to use faculties targeted at their particular needs," said Dr. David Owen, researcher at Warwick University's Center for Research in Ethnic Relations, who carried out the study.

"The sensitivity of support staff/trainers both in age and cultural terms is important for encouraging use of public internet facilities," he added.

The number of people accessing government sites was pretty poor across the board. Many government online services have been criticized in the past for being difficult to navigate and hard to access, which could be a reason why people still aren't using them. Thirty-four percent of white respondents had accessed government or local government sites compared to 20 percent of Asian and 26 percent of Caribbean users.

Levels of computing abilities did not differ greatly between ethnic groups — around 63 percent of people from all races said they had beginner or non-existent computer skills — and across all groups, computer usage dropped sharply with age.

"The results are largely in line with our expectations," said Dr. Owen. "The sample [1,500 households] was too small to identify statistically significant results for smaller ethnic groups. The survey also only covers deprived areas, so prosperous people from minority groups with high IT awareness are not covered.

The survey was part of the DfES' wider look at the so-called digital divide. Several government departments will now consider how to sustain ICT provision and training in ethnic minority groups in poorer areas.

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