Illawarra digital divide leaves kids behind

Parts of the Illawarra are trailing badly behind the digital age, with more than a third of households in some suburbs still not connected to the internet.

The lag is creating a digital divide largely along postcode lines, according to latest Census data.

In Warrawong, more than 41 per cent of households are not connected to the internet, compared with 11.5 per cent in the 2508 postcode covering Coalcliff, Helensburgh, Otford, Stanwell Park and Stanwell Tops.

Barnardos community development worker Michelle Ridding believes the divide is creating a new "layer of disadvantage" among primary school-aged children.

BY POSTCODE: households without internet

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"Not having the internet at home is a distinct disadvantage as far as their literacy goes and as far as their schoolwork goes," said Mrs Ridding, who runs after-school programs for children aged 5-12 from Warrawong's Bundaleer Housing Estate.

"We find the expectation from the schools now is that the kids would access the information via the internet to do their projects. They're encouraged to bring USB drives in and [use them to] complete their work at home.

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"While many of their peers would be handing in assignments that have been typed up and had pictures cut and pasted into them and look really nice, they're handing in something that's done by hand, and clearly they're going to be marked accordingly.

"They're not skilled in being able to find information. It affects their self-esteem."

Warrawong mum Carmen Plaza takes her children Stephanie and Alex to Warrawong Library whenever they are assigned homework that requires online research.

Mrs Plaza said the family investigated getting the internet at home, but opted out when told the connection wouldn't be great, and because of cost.

"It is an issue - $70 a month is quite a bit of money," she said.

"I've got relatives in Germany and they only pay about $10 a month."

Mrs Plaza believes at-home internet access will become essential as her children, now in years 3 and 4, get older.

"We probably won't go without it for much longer," she said.

"I didn't grow up with computers but this generation will."

In the Illawarra, broadband take-up is lowest in postcodes 2528 (Barrack Heights, Barrack Point, Lake Illawarra, Mount Warrigal, Warilla and Windang); 2506 (Berkeley) and 2505 (Kemblawarra, Port Kembla).

Australia-wide, 19.7 per cent of households have no internet, down from 35.4 per cent in 2006.

In the Illawarra, the average is 22.6 per cent, down from 39 per cent.

Some people in every Illawarra postcode - about 3.5 per cent - continue to use dial-up.

Work on the federal government's National Broadband Network roll-out is expected to begin in Warrawong and surrounding suburbs within three years.

Kiama Downs and Minnamurra are already connected to the faster network and 44 per cent of eligible households have made use of it. Construction is under way in Wollongong, Dapto and elsewhere in the Illawarra, with Kiama next to be connected.

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