One hundred and five people from refugee backgrounds have increased digital independence, English language proficiency and access to online services thanks to a program coordinated by Settlement Services International (SSI).
SSI, with support from Settlement Engagement and Transition Support Program providers and NSW public libraries, provided a comprehensive 10-week digital literacy course for mature-aged refugees over 35, based in Sydney and regional NSW and struggling with digital-based learning.
SSI found that, by increasing their digital literacy and improving their access to digital content, mature-aged refugees could improve English language proficiency, literacy and numeracy, participation in education and training, employment outcomes, and social cohesion.
SSI General Manager, Newcomers, Settlement and Integration, Yamamah Agha, said accessing digital platforms and many essential services online was an increasing concern for mature-aged refugees.
“With online application to mainstream services increasingly encouraged and physical branches closing, online access is often the only option with critical services such as banks and government departments, and this impacts many refugees SSI supports.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated this digital divide and further impacted mature-aged new arrivals committed to English language learning and further education.
“Feedback from mature-aged refugees included difficulty engaging with learning materials online. That caused withdrawals from learning altogether, with many waiting until face-to-face classes returned.”
Ms Agha said the digital literacy course was co-designed with mature-aged refugees to ensure modules were tailored to the unique needs of each region.
“A listener campaign with refugees from diverse backgrounds and a facilitator who generated conversation around specific areas helped identify gaps and determine what topics needed to be covered in the course.”
SSI Digital Literacy Project Coordinator Moones Mansoubi said that 20 Digital Champions who had already completed the course had been selected to improve social cohesion outcomes.
“Those students that excel in the program and aspire to upskill community members, educate and mentor their families and friends are promoted within community to demonstrate and share their newly acquired skills and knowledge,” she said.
Digital champion and refugee Rafid Al-Qesmousa has recently graduated from the course and said that he gained many new skills in digital literacy and is looking forward to skill-sharing with others in community.
“I improved my skills while attending the sessions and found them very useful,” he said.
“My confidence increased, which has helped me support everyone in the class and some from my community.
“It was a nice surprise and privilege to be nominated as a champion, and I’m looking forward to helping others who need extra support.”
Refugee Week was celebrated from June 19-25.