The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light more than ever the vast digital divide of Trinidad and Tobago. In March 2020, the government implemented a “Stay at Home” order whereby institutions not in the health, food and security services were closed. This meant that educational institutions such as schools and libraries were physically closed and therefore had to be innovative in meeting the needs of their students and patrons. These institutions like many others had to “go online.”
Unfortunately, many citizens did not have digital access and were left behind. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago noted that approximately 60,000 students did not have devices or access to the internet to connect to online learning.
What is the Digital Divide?
- The uneven distribution of access to computer technology.
- It is the technological gap between those who can and cannot afford to own devices to give them access to the internet.
- The discrepancy between those who have access to the opportunities and knowledge that computers and the internet offer and those who do not.
There is a serious gap in the levels of access and the availability of technical tools in Trinidad and Tobago. Not everyone can afford access to the technology and this can put families at a disadvantage.
The Digital Divide in Trinidad and Tobago
There are two main reasons for the digital divide in Trinidad and Tobago.
- Socio-economic challenges, meaning some people simply cannot afford devices and the internet.
- Some rural communities do not have the infrastructure for proper telecommunication technology to be installed and thus do not have access.
Nevertheless, it is argued that most persons have mobile devices with connection to basic communications needs through the major service providers.
COVID-19 and libraries
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the shores of Trinidad in March 2020, the National Library and Information Systems Authority (NALIS) adhered to the protocols issued by the government to “Stay at Home” to limit transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
However, the vital services of NALIS to provide information did not shut down. Library staff across Trinidad and Tobago stepped up to serve the public, intensifying their steadfast commitment to meet the needs of their communities.
The pandemic has reminded us of the critical function of the library in providing resources, educational materials, and internet access to the communities they serve. The importance of access to the internet became even more crucial as it was necessary for people to be online for school, work and receiving updates about the pandemic.
Library professionals devised new ways to connect to their communities and provide information and access to information to everyone. Libraries have also become distributors of digital content by taking materials from their collections and making them available. Presently, NALIS continues to serve their communities through EBSCOHOST databases, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and YouTube.
The shift to online learning and remote work has exposed the severity of the country’s digital divide and the need to address digital illiteracy in Trinidad and Tobago.
What NALIS is doing to alleviate the severe challenges of the Digital Divide?
- All NALIS libraries provide free access to the internet and Wi-Fi.
- NALIS provides digital skills training for senior citizens. Libraries held classes on how to use WhatsApp and Zoom to connect to friends and family in a Digital Literacy (DigiLit) programme.
- Digital literacy videos and webinars for parents and students are also provided in collaboration with the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT)
- NALIS’ Educational Library Services Division (ELSD) works in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MOE) to provide credible online and media content.
- The ELSD also works with the MOE on worksheet packages in local newspapers, such as the Early Childhood Care and Education weekly packages published in the Sunday Guardian.
“Bridging T&T’s digital divide.” Guardian Media. Editorial. Trinidad and Tobago Guardian, 19th September, 2020. www.guardian.co.tt/opinion/bridging-tts-digital-divide-6.2.1214177.9629bee0fd
Evans, Alan et al. Technology in Action. Complete. 16th Edition. Pearson. 2020.
National Library and Information Systems Authority. 2021. www.nalis.gov.tt/
Roberts, Latoyaa. “Bridging the Digital Divide: Online learning for students in Trinidad and Tobago.” IVolunteer International, 13th October 2020. www.ivint.org/bridging-the-digital-divide-online-learning-for-students-in-trinidad-and-tobago/
Sanatan, Amilcar. “COVID-19 and Trinidad and Tobago education's digital divide.” Global Voices, 8th May 2020. globalvoices.org/2020/05/08/covid-19-and-trinidad-and-tobago-educations-digital-divide/
Williams, Audra and Charlie Miller. “Libraries are bridging the digital divide.” Internet Society, 17th March 2021. www.internetsociety.org/blog/2021/03/libraries-are-bridging-the-digital-divide/
Author: Petrice Lampkin-Bascombe, Library Assistant I, Public Libraries Division