Washington State Senator Bob Hasegawa chats with students at the March 18 event supporting digital literacy. • Courtesy Photo
Washington State Senator Bob Hasegawa chats with students at the March 18 event supporting digital literacy. • Courtesy Photo

Civic leaders, Seattle Goodwill, and Comcast banded together on March 18 to launch a digital literacy program that reaches out to people on the wrong side of the digital divide.

The program, created by Goodwill and funded by Comcast, utilizes mobile devices to teach people technology skills necessary for finding jobs and participating in other essential needs in the 21st Century.

The program goes beyond teaching basic computer skills. With grants from Comcast, Goodwill will utilize 100 tablets at its Seattle, Everett, and Bremerton Goodwill Job Training centers to provide more than 800 students with digital literacy instruction in the first year. In addition, Seattle Goodwill will actively share this curriculum with other Goodwill organizations across the country and with other non-profits.

Goodwill will also train English as a Second Language instructors to roll out the program in all 10 job training sites.

Comcast spokesperson Steve Kipp said the company began its association with Goodwill about four years ago with seed money to support classroom initiatives.

“We can’t survive without these computer skills in this century,” Kipp said.

Comcast is funding the program through two $50,000 grants, one of which is part of the company’s Gold Medal Recognition Program honoring community partners across the country that are leaders in connecting families to home broadband through Internet Essentials, the company’s low cost broadband adoption initiative.

Goodwill’s training program is considered to be the first of its kind among Goodwill locations across the country to feature mobile devices rather than desktop or laptop computers, Comcast said in a statement.

Mobile devices are the primary or only way many disadvantaged people have for accessing the Internet, according to Barbara “B.G.” Nabors-Glass, Vice president of Job Training and Education for Seattle Goodwill.

“Growing up, it was reading, writing, arithmetic—the basic skills now are how to interface with technology,” Nabors-Glass said.

Goodwill’s free educational programs help people learn skills such as word processing, retail customer service, and cashiering, to help them obtain jobs in the market. 154 Goodwills across the country wiill also learn to interface with technology to do things like checking students’ grades and depositing checks online.

“Even in a city like Seattle, known for its tech savviness, too many people in this city live on the wrong side of the digital divide and we’d like to be able to partner with the city and organizations to bridge that divide,” Kipp said.

Comcast also runs an Internet Essentials broadband adoption initiative, which provides low cost broadband service and computers to families with children enrolled in the National Free and Reduced lunch program. Internet Essentials has resulted in more than 1 million people, including nearly 10,000 families in the Seattle metro area, having access to the Internet from their homes, according to Comcast.

Seattle City Council Bruce Harrell, who attended the event, said that currently 20 percent of families have affordable high-speed Internet because of the program, and their goal is to hit 50 percent. He also said that 77 percent of jobs in the next decade will require technology skills.

“This is where the action will be,” Harrell said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, or where you stand, it matters where you’re heading. We know where the jobs will be, we know what skills are necessary to compete in this world. I commend Goodwill training and Comcast investments, they are investing in real people and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” Harrell said.

State Senator Bob Hasegawa, who was also in attendance, said that digital literacy was important in tackling social issues because it’s a way for people to stay informed.

“If we’re going to fix the social problems that we’re facing right now, we’ve got to have access to information that everyone can use to make good social decisions.”

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