Families without computers 'on back foot'

Computers are as essential as books and the time has passed where children can do without them at home, a University of Wollongong media expert says.

Almost 23 per cent of Illawarra households remain without internet access, and more than 40 per cent are going without in Warrawong, the suburb where take-up has been slowest.

Wollongong communications and media studies academic Sue Turnbull said children from households without computers were on the back foot with "digital literacy".

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"Not [having a computer] is the equivalent of not teaching a child to read, in that we're not developing digital literacy - one of the most important attributes a child can learn," Professor Turnbull said.

"Like it or not, this is the way more of us now interact - all our work is now done via keyboard and computers.

"Not being on the internet is to be missing out on a major part of the social and intellectual life of a culture. I think parents are going to feel anxious that their child is missing out if they're not getting that access."

There was a big difference between internet access at home and occasional use at school or a library - though this was "better than nothing", Prof Turnbull said.

One of the first lessons University of Wollongong communications students were taught was to develop their internet profile for the job market.

Students were encouraged to look critically at what the web revealed about them, and consider how a prospective employer might view this information.

This was now certain to be factored in to the selection process, Prof Turnbull said.

"We tell our students the first thing any employer is going to do is look at their internet profile to see where they've been and what they've done," she said.

Fewer than 20 per cent of households Australia-wide remain without internet.

Prof Turnbull said the South Coast had some history of lagging behind in the takeup of modern media, having been one of the areas of NSW to switch on to television very late.

"Some people might say that was a good thing.

"But if you are seeking full participation, full knowledge of society, and want to be a part of that, then having access to the available media is vital, whether radio, telegraph, television or the internet," she said.


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