87% of Arabs lack digital literacy - study

Computer keyboard [illustrative]
(photo credit: ING IMAGE)

The study found two main factors holding the Arab population back: low digital literacy and poor infrastructure.

As much as 87% of Israel’s adult Arab population lacks basic digital capabilities, according to a new study by the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya (IDC).
Just 13% of Arabs aged 25-64 were found to be digitally literate to actively participate in online activities like distance working and learning, banking, filling out forms, online shopping and using online tools that government ministries make accessible to citizens.
That stands in stark contrast to the 59% of Israel’s non-haredi Jewish  population that was found digitally literate.
The study, conducted by senior researchers Dr. Marian Tehawkho and Dr. Hila Axelrod, was based on data from 2015, “but I don’t think there has been a dramatic improvement since then,” Tehawkho said.
“After COVID, there are a lot more things you can’t do without going online, like accessing banks, shopping, and government services, so the cost of this gap has increased,” Axelrod noted. “The size of the gap between Jews and Arabs is surprising.”
“The future of Israel’s economy is in technology, and for the Arab population to be so far behind in that world is a big problem for the economy and social fabric of the country,” Tehawkho said. “Israel needs to take steps to help this community catch up.”
Just 36% of Arabs worked in technical or office positions in 2019, according to statistics quoted from the Central Bureau of Statistics. Another 19% worked in various sales jobs, and the rest in manual or unskilled labor. In contrast, 77% of Jews worked in technical or office positions during the same period, and just 14% worked in unskilled labor positions, according to data cited.
The study found two main factors holding the Arab population back: low digital literacy and poor infrastructure.
Dr. Hila Axelrod (left) and Dr. Marian Tehawkho (right)
“The problem of low digital literacy became more apparent during the pandemic, because the schools and employment centers had to communicate online,” Tehawkho said. “This was a very difficult challenge. In job placement centers, for example, they couldn’t teach Hebrew courses because students didn’t know how to use Zoom, so they needed to first teach that – but they couldn’t, because everything was remote.”
Regarding infrastructure, about a third of the Arab population in Israel is not even connected to the Internet, and even in places where there is a connection, the speed and stability of the connection to Internet lines are significantly poor.
“I have difficulties speaking on Zoom with doctoral students because the infrastructure is so poor,” Tehawkho said. “It makes it extremely difficult to work even for those who are well educated. Mobile Internet is faster than broadband Internet, but you can’t do everything on mobile.”
The report recommended that the government establish online work and learning centers that provide computer and Internet services in Arab localities as a short-term measure to address the problem. For the longer term, it must invest heavily in upgrading the Internet infrastructure in Arab towns.
“The government has to intervene in this area,” Tehawkho said. “It is not profitable for the Internet companies to do this on their own.”
Regarding online literacy, the report recommended that employment centers and schools put a much stronger emphasis on teaching essential digital skills needed by students, parents, and professionals. Local municipalities should also offer courses and workshops to encourage their residents to learn more.
“In Tel Aviv, people know they don’t have to go to the municipal centers to take care of most of their civil needs, because everything is online,” Tehawkho said. “Arab towns should work toward this as well.”

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