I thank the Chairman and the committee for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion. I am joined by my colleague, Ms Caroline Henry, who leads on the digital skills for citizens scheme.
A number of Departments are active in the area of digital literacy, including the Departments of Education and Skills and Business, Enterprise and Innovation, which focus on formal education, labour force participation and future skills.
The focus of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment in this area is on introducing non-onliners, those who have never used the Internet before, to use Internet and digital technologies. The objective is to provide these non-onliners opportunity to gain the basic skills and confidence to start their digital journey by removing some of the barriers, for example, fear and a lack of skills, trust and awareness of what being online can offer. Such benefits can include saving time and money, staying in touch with family and friends, enjoying a wider variety of hobbies and interests, staying up-to-date with news, accessing Government services and obviously being able to participate in education.
Since 2008, the Department has run two schemes designed to help those who have never used the Internet before. The first was the benefit scheme, which ran from 2008 to 2016, investing €8.4 million in providing basic training to 157,000 participants. This was replaced in 2017 by the digital skills for citizens scheme. The scheme provides free, informal, basic digital skills training, where people attending classes will learn the skills they need to take their first steps to getting online. Since training commenced in 2017, €4.8 million has been invested in providing basic digital skills to over 51,000 participants. The Department recognises that voluntary community and not-for-profit organisations are very well-placed to identify and encourage people within their communities who have not yet engaged with the Internet. In 2017, the Department entered into grant agreements with 15 voluntary community and not-for-profit organisations, including FIT, which is here today, to deliver such informal training on basic digital skills. Training classes are available for anyone who does not have the confidence, motivation or skills to reap the benefits of digital technologies. Training is targeted at people over 45 years of age, members of the farming communities, small business owners, the unemployed, persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups, but in reality, anyone who has not interacted with Internet technologies can go on the course. Classes take place in libraries, schools, community centres, marts and GAA clubs across all counties. They are advertised locally on the Department's website, with times, venues and content arranged to meet the needs of the participants. Each participant receives ten hours of training in a class of no more than ten people. An Internet-enabled device, a computer, laptop or tablet, is provided for use during the class, or if people wish they can bring their own devices. The class content is made up of six hours of compulsory modules, which include things like accessing emails, using search engines, accessing online government services, using apps, and then there are a further four hours of training that are tailored to meet the specific needs of the participants.
The Department also works closely with other Government Departments to provide relevant content for the online Government services aspect of the training. For example, our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine provided tutors with demonstration herd numbers for use on its ag food site. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has provided an interactive demonstration of their motor tax renewal application, and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has focused on the use of the Eircode finder. At the end of each training course, participants are asked to provide feedback by completing an online survey. Almost 20,000 people over the age of 65 have attended the classes, and some 6,500 from the farming community have also benefited from the training.
In addition to the work of the grantees, like FIT, in promoting awareness of the scheme and encouraging people to participate, the Department has promoted the scheme at the National Ploughing Championships and by distributing material through public participation networks, Citizens Information offices and the local authority broadband officer network. Training under the current scheme will continue until 2020. The Department is now looking at how best to move forward with the scheme in the context of the new national digital strategy being developed by the Department of the Taoiseach in partnership with stakeholder Departments and agencies. It is clear that much work remains to be done in this area, with a particular focus on scale, effectiveness and co-ordination of efforts.