The path to digital literacy has to start somewhere.
For some Monterey County residents, it might as well begin at a laundromat.
When Hartnell College set out to address the issue of digital literacy, it looked not to the students in its classrooms, a generation largely raised on smartphones, videogames and Chromebooks. Rather, it set its sights on the community beyond its campus, one which college catalogs and online registration processes seldom reach.
Two California Public Utilities Commission grants are helping Hartnell connect with residents at the northern and southern ends of Monterey County, many of whom have likely never set foot on a college campus. Flyers are being posted at laundromats, churches and local shops, and community-based organizations such as CHISPA (Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association, Inc.) and local agriculture companies are being enlisted to help spread the word to immigrant communities, farmworkers and the largely adult population that’s being left behind in today’s digital world.
Need to fill out a job application? Renew a library book? Search for an apartment? Pay a utility bill, find an orthodontist your health plan will actually cover, or perform myriad other day-to-day tasks? In most cases, the most logical place to start – or to complete those tasks efficiently – is online. Unless you don’t know how to use a computer, don’t own one, or lack affordable internet service. That Digital Divide is a sad reality for far too many adults in the Monterey Bay region, where cutting-edge technological innovation and pockets of high-speed internet exists alongside wide swaths of populations with woefully outdated internet service and where individuals lack rudimentary computer skills or access to a computer altogether. It’s a challenge created by a lack of both infrastructure and information.
Over the summer, Hartnell hopes to get the message out to as many as 1,000 people to recruit participants for its digital literacy program – many of them recent immigrants and limited English-language speakers who struggle to perform the most basic of tasks on a computer.
Dr. Willard Lewallen, Ph.D., superintendent/president at Hartnell College, heard about the CPUC grants that support efforts to bridge that Digital Divide from Central Coast Broadband Consortium’s Steve Blum at MBEP’s quarterly tech ecosystem meetings, which bring together representatives from different sectors to move the region forward, connecting people and getting things done. Established by legislation in 2017, the California Advanced Services Fund mostly funds broadband infrastructure but can also be used to pay for computer and internet education programs. The first round of grant applications was last summer, making Harnell among the first recipients to be awarded funding.
Hartnell’s digital literacy program will cover some of the most basic computer concepts that can prove vexing for novice users: how to use computer equipment such as a keyboard and mouse, how to browse the internet, and how to navigate essential programs.
Hartnell will focus its efforts primarily on adults in King City and Castroville, with Spanish- and English-language training for a combined 248 students.