Computer courses for vulnerable groups
Digital Meeting Places, also called Digital Playgrounds, were set up in underprivileged neighbourhoods of Arnhem, to equip local residents with ICT skills and thus improve their job prospects. In total, about 610 people completed courses, some of which were given by previous course participants who trained to become volunteers. The project exceeded all its objectives, leading to the establishment of seven centres instead of four and attracting more than twice as many participants as foreseen.
“In our community we created a safe playground to bring different people together to learn and discover the potential of and need for information technology.”
Wim Jansen, former steering committee chairman, Presikhaaf Digital Meeting Place, Arnhem
The main goal was to offer affordable instruction on computers and the Internet, as well as related workshops to unemployed local residents (often age 50 and older) including immigrants, many of whom also attended Dutch-language courses at the centres. More advanced class participants could enroll in a training course to become an assistant or an assistant teacher, which also allowed unemployed individuals to stay active and gain valuable experience. Other volunteers helped out with running the centres, updating software, and staffing the Internet cafés.
A set of marketable skills
Although the impact of the Digital Meeting Places on the labour market has not been studied in depth, people who took the courses did find jobs in the ICT sector. In addition, several participants remain active as volunteers in the centres. Other volunteers left to take paid jobs, where they are putting their newly acquired skills to use.
Bridging the digital divide
At national level, the project fits into a wider goal to promote social and economic participation of vulnerable groups. An important part of this objective is to bridge the digital divide among the population, giving economically disadvantaged groups a better chance on the labour market.
At regional level, the project grew out of a development programme called Arnhem Kern, also partly financed by the ERDF, to foster entrepreneurship, stimulate the city’s economy and strengthen vulnerable groups’ socio-economic potential.
Three partners have made the project a success: the Municipality of Arnhem, which was in charge of the project content, financing, evaluation and monitoring; local social welfare organisation Stichting Rijnstad, which donated the community centres where the Digital Meeting Places are based; and the Rijn Ijssel College, in charge of training volunteers and teachers.
The Digital Meeting Places are still supervised by Stichting Rijnstad. However, the volunteers are independent and responsible for the day-to-day management of the learning centres. The volunteers can allocate their income towards renovating the facilities and call on the supervisor to provide support when needed.