Limits of the Appeal to Internet in Accessing Information and Training in the Exercise of Parenting Skills in Quebec

Authors


Abstract

In this article, we define the concept of digital gap as a multidimensional construct, and account for the contradictory relations stated in the scientific literature concerning the appeal to Internet by the more or less privileged strata of society. We explore the state of the digital gap and analyze diverse policies implemented by federal and provincial governments to support accessibility to digital resources in Quebec. After presenting results of a survey with parents concerning access to information and training in the exercise of parenting skills, we analyze these data in accordance with factors associated with the digital gap. We conclude by underlining the danger of compensation policies for the most vulnerable strata of society when government services are placed online.

Introduction

In this article, we state the results derived from the exploitation of second order data produced in the framework of a wider research based on the identification of needs for access to information and training in the exercise of educational competencies by Quebec parents of pre-school and elementary school children. Our enquiry data obtained from those who provide training and information services, for the most part, government, paragovernment and community organisms, for example, suggest that the major part of the offer is mediatized on the Internet. In this article, we examine to what extent the digital gap conjugated with the trend by the State to reduce its costs by mediatizing several of its services to the population affects accessibility to training and information resources by the most vulnerable strata of society, even though they are described as being indispensable for parents from underprivileged backgrounds.

Since the year 2000, the Government of Quebec, like the Government of Canada, has been counting on the access of populations to digital resources in order to attain two goals. On the one hand, the development of connectivity of Canadian households allows to sustain a discourse of rationalization of the different public services and, notably, of access to information relative to government goods and services by justifying the closing of physical front offices in favour of virtual ones. On the other hand, the discourse on the development of digital resources in the diverse governmental services offered allows us to affirm the reduction of the impact of social inequalities and regional disparities as well concerning the accessibility of diverse support services for formal and informal training of populations. Hence, in Canada, as in most developed countries, accessibility to training and information constitutes the corner-stone of the discourse that proclaims equal opportunities for economic and social success for all and, therefore, individual responsibility with regard to the reproduction of socioeconomic disparities.

The Canadian society and the modern-day Quebec society in particular, are founded on a logic of affirmation of duty to prevent risk and indefectible support for the right of the young child and his family to health, financial security and education. As a guarantee of these principles, the concept of equal opportunities with regard to success and perseverance in school as well as the resulting social mobility form a leitmotiv for all policies of the Government of Quebec since the launching of the “Quiet Revolution1” in 1963. This concept prompted successive governments to adopt a whole series of measures aimed at the precocious prevention of risks of mistreatment or childhood under-stimulation on the one hand, and on the other, at the utilization of schooling as a tool to access informatics for all strata of society, as of the 1970s.

Indeed, in 1976, the provincial government announced the “technological switch” aimed, among other things, at massively providing schools with individual computers (Grenon, 2000, 2002). In 1995–1996, following the Estates General in Education, the Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sport (MELS) announced massive investment measures to renew the informatics park and the hooking up of Quebec schools to the Internet. These measures allowed the MELS to announce, as of 2000, the hook-up with the entire network of Quebec elementary and high schools as well as the attainment of the best pupils/computer ratios in all industrialized countries (Council of Ministers of Education in Canada, 2000; Government of Quebec, 1996, 2000a). In fact, since 2002, a consortium of ministries, headed by the MELS, developed an ambitious investment program that would provide the entire Quebec school network and the majority of Quebec municipalities with a high-speed connection based on an optical fibre to allow Internet access on broadband. This initiative, entitled, Connected villages of Quebec, aims at “guaranteeing equity of access to telecommunication infrastructures for all citizens of Quebec, in rural as well as urban regions” (Government of Quebec, 2002, p. 3).

The recent initiative recognizes an important dimension of the digital gap in Canada, namely, disparity in connectivity and access to communications by Internet between urban regions, rural regions and peripheral regions also called “resource regions”. This gap manifests itself all over the country on the basis of the extreme geographical spreading out of habitats and over-concentration of services such as populations in urban regions deployed in a thin corridor situated on an east-west band that generally does not extend beyond 200 kilometres of the Canada-United States border (Sawada, Cossette, Wellar & Kurt, 2006). This dimension of the digital gap interacts with the one that distinguishes citizens according to their socioeconomic status. In this regard, as early as in 2000, the Quebec government announced a program of support for the purchase of informatics equipment and for the networking of low-income families. This program entitled, Connecting families, granted a budget of 340 million dollars distributed over the fiscal years 2000 to 2003, aimed at supporting Internet access for the most deprived Quebec households by assuring 50% of the cost of informatics equipment as well as 75% of subscription fees for connection to Internet for a basin estimated at 200 000 Quebec families receiving family allowances (Cisneros, 2000; Government of Quebec, 2000b). Although it had never been evaluated in a systematic manner, and despite the fact that it had only been applied during the fiscal years 2000–2001 and 2001–2002, the program effectively stimulated connectivity in low-income households. Nevertheless, we can presume that the short-term character of this measure largely limits its sustainable effects. What happens with the digital gap in Quebec and to its eventual effects on the democratization of access to information for the most deprived citizens of the province, notably, young parents of pre-school and elementary school children?

Conceptual framework

The digital gap, a complex construct

Originally associated with the notion of accessibility to means of electronic communication and to the disparity in this regard between industrialized and under-developed countries, the concept of digital gap has spread since the second half of the 1990s to social and regional disparities that affect accessibility to the Internet within a same country or same society (Hammond, 1997; National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 1995). The scientific literature identifies essentially two sources of these disparities: differences at the level of socioeconomic variables, of which essentially are income and schooling of individuals, and those founded on the geographic accessibility of distribution of services, notably between inhabitants of rural or urban zones (Bertot, 2003; Compaine, 2001). Within this perspective, socioeconomic deprivation, which may include an ethno-linguistic dimension in migrant populations, first nations or the marginalized, for example, as well as distance from urban centres, reduces, in a concomitant manner, the probability of access to information, particularly in the way it is distributed on the Internet (Government of Canada, 2003; Plante, 2005). Consequently, inequality exists in diverse sectors of the population with regard to access to educational, cultural, or more generally, informational resources. Given the growth in importance of the appeal of digital resources, notably at the level of economic development, there is a progressive reinforcement of social disparities.

Since the beginning of the year 2000, another dimension is added to these disparities: taking into account the limits inferred by simply considering ‘connectivity’ to define the digital gap. Indeed, many programs that support informatics and the networking of populations from low socioeconomic environments deployed both in Europe, North America and Australia, have shown a very limited impact on the progression of Internet appeal for access to information by the populations targeted (Commission of the European Communities, 2005; Kvasny & Keil, 2006; Government of Quebec, 2003). An important factor that helps explain the slowness in the increase of networking by the most vulnerable populations happens to be the rate of real or functional illiteracy in adults of disadvantaged populations. As a matter of fact, the major part of useful digital contents, at least for information purposes, stems from the written word (Chang, Bakken, Brown, Houston, Kremps, Kukafka, Safran & Stavri, 2004; Veenhof, Clermont & Sciadas, 2005). Yet the relationship to the written word by populations from disadvantaged backgrounds is not too developed, especially when individuals have a minimal mastery of English, or, in the case of Quebec, of French.

We may therefore define the digital gap as the distance of accessibility of information as dispersed by the Internet to citizens of a same country, according to their socioeconomic status, ethnicity, environment of habitat and level of literacy. Individuals, or low income households, with little schooling, with limited mastery of the written language, notably with regard to the official language of their country of residence, as well as individuals living on the outskirts of large urban centres would have less of a possibility to benefit from, or use the services accessible on the Internet than their peers who are better off financially and live in an urban zone. This hiatus between social strata and regions is presumed to have repercussions on the probabilities that children with access to school benefit from a degree of computer literacy that guarantees equal opportunities of success for all in the utilization of digital resources as a tool supporting learning (Jackson, Samona, Moomaw, Ramsay, Murray, Smith & Murray, 2007; Judge, Puckett & Bell, 2006). Lastly, the level of schooling and mastery of reading skills could negatively affect the capacity of parents from low socioeconomic environments who use the Internet to exercise critical and enlightened judgement concerning the information they have access to, notably when it concerns care to be given or the educational conduct to use with their children (Martland & Rothbaum, 2006).

The digital gap in Canada and Quebec, brief state of the situation

The written word as a medium of communication has little effect on the parent who lacks schooling and presents the highest probability of functional illiteracy. Hence, in Quebec, 22% of adults are classified at the lowest level of literacy competence, whereas 55% of them are considered as not being able to master the reading competencies necessary to use information in order to fully function within society and the Canadian economy (Bernèche & Perron, 2005). The proportion of functional illiterates, having difficulty to make sense of the content of a pamphlet or a section of a newspaper, is particularly strong in adults with a first cycle high school certificate or a lesser one (Statistics Canada, 2005).

Moreover, display on Internet sites represents 74% of the total offer of training and information in the exercise of educational parenting skills generated by governmental and paragovernmental organisms in Quebec (Terrisse, Larose, Lefebvre & Bédard, 2005). In a more general manner, placing information online represents more than 50% of the offer of information on the part of federal and provincial government services. However, the most disadvantaged strata of the population are those that dispose less frequently of a performing computer as well as a high or low-speed Internet connection (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2004). Therefore, according to recent available statistics, less than 40% of Canadian households whose income is equal to or below the poverty threshold dispose of a computer and approximately 30% of them benefit from an Internet connection (Statistics Canada, 2006). Lastly, in addition to what precedes, accessibility to an adequate connection enabling consultation of heavier and more sophisticated Internet sites in the areas of graphics and animation varies in Quebec, depending on whether the citizen lives in an urban region with cable distribution, or in peripheral regions where the connection, when available, often relies on the telephone and only allows for low-speed connection without any access to a digital subscriber line (DSL).

To be more precise, in 2006, 67% of Quebec households were connected to the Internet. The distribution of access according to the quality of connectivity was done as follows: 32% of households disposed of high-speed access by cable (DSL), 23% benefited from high-speed by telephone and lastly, 2% of households had access via the wireless network, whereas 10% of families disposed of a low-speed telephone modem connection.(Centre francophone d’informatisation des organisations, CEFRIO, 2007), [Francophone centre for informatization of organisms, 2007]. The impact of the geographical distribution of populations on Internet accessibility is quite easily illustrated. Thus, according to the latest statistics on the connectivity of families that take into account the distribution between regions of Quebec (presented in table 1), the five most urbanized regions of the province2, concentrating to themselves alone 61% of the population on 9% of the Quebec territory, also represented the environment where percentages of connectivity were equal or superior to the provincial average (CEFRIO, 2006; Government of Quebec, 2007).

Table 1.  Regionalized profile of Internet connections in Quebec
RankRegionsPercentage of connection of households by regionPercentage of the total population
1Montreal9625.0
2Laval7404.9
3National Capital7208.8
4Monteregie6918.0
5Outaouais6704.5
6Lanaudiere6205.7
7Abitibi-Temiscaming; North of Quebec6202.4
8Eastern Townships6103.9
9Laurentians6106.8
10Saguenay-Lake St-Jean5803.6
11North Shore5701.2
12Mauricie5603.4
13Centre-of-Quebec5603.0
14Chaudiere-Appalaches5405.2
15Lower St. Lawrence5102.6
16Gaspe-Magdalen Islands4301.3

We may thus question the relevance of betting on the Internet as a diffusion tool for governmental information in the area of goods and services, notably when the appeal of electronic media represents a means of compensation for the decrease in accessibility to human resources or printed information outside urban centres. This questioning is all the more relevant when we consider that populations in Quebec peripheral regions are usually distributed between the habitat of a small number of urban centres, potentially served by cable or digital telephone, and small villages with no access to these technologies. If we take into account the rate of connectivity of low socioeconomic families, thus with little schooling, and an income situated on or below the poverty level, we are able to observe a major effect of the disadvantaged variable on connectivity, notably in the Montreal region (presented in table 2).

Table 2.  Weighted Internet connectivity profile in Quebec according to the socio-economically disadvantaged indicator
Administrativeregion3Percentage of connectivity of households by region weighted according to the low income thresholdPercentage of households situated below the low income threshold
Montreal04.917.1
Laval17.107.7
National Capital14.506.7
Monteregie15.707.6
Outaouais19.709.8
Lanaudiere14.707.9
Abitibi-Temiscaming; North of Quebec07.712.4
Eastern Townships15.908.7
Laurentians14.608.0
Saguenay- Lake St. Jean13.908.1
North Shore06.010.2
Mauricie01.610.4
Centre-of-Quebec14.408.4
Chaudiere-Appalaches12.905.7
Lower St. Lawrence12.208.1
Gaspe – Magdalen Islands02.010.8

We observe here a major effect of the conjugation of the socioeconomic status variable with the relative absence of infrastructure for many regions focused on the exploitation of natural resources, essentially mining and forestry, such as Abitibi-Temiscaming, Gaspe and the Magdalen Islands, Mauricie and the North Shore. Indeed, these regions that occupy important areas of the Quebec territory are characterized by a certain number of particularities. Among these, we note:

  • • A particularly weak demographic density varying from 0.1 to 4.7 inhabitants per square kilometre, if we disregard the immediate region of Three Rivers (Institute of statistics of Quebec, 2007);
  • • Economic dependence with regard to primary sector activities often in full decline, as is the case for forestry and fisheries as well as for a good portion of the mining industry;
  • • Availability of telecommunication infrastructures clearly less sophisticated than in urban zones in the South of Quebec and, above all, the almost complete absence of infrastructures and cellular telephone services or distribution of cable signals beyond five or six municipalities of average importance present on these territories.

Are we able to validate the hypothesis of a double effect of socioeconomic deprivation along with the geographical location of Quebec households on the probability of utilization of Information and communication technologies (ICT) and, more particularly, of the Internet to access information and, eventually, training in the exercise of educational parenting competencies? We attempted to respond to this question within the framework of a study subsidized by the Quebec research fund for research on society and culture4, from 2002 to 2005.

Relationship with the utilization of technological tools to access information and training: survey data

Within the framework of this research, we conducted a vast survey by questionnaire with a stratified random sample, representative of 1406 parents of children from birth to 12 years of age, residing in Quebec (Terrisse, Larose, Lefebvre & Bédard, 2006).

Sample structure

The distribution of respondents, according to the original stratification criteria, is the following: in the area of spoken language, the sample is mostly composed of French-speaking subjects (90%) and secondly, of Anglophones (10%). The representation of English-speaking subjects in the sample remains equivalent to the real linguistic space occupied in Quebec (Quebec Institute of Statistics, 2004). Distribution of the age of the child targeted by responding family is the following : 33% of responding parents targeted a child from birth to three years of age, 14% a child from four to five years of age and 53% a child from six to twelve years of age (elementary school age). The choice of categorization of this variable corresponds to the principal moments of variation of services offered to children and their families in Quebec, children from birth to three years of age, potentially having access to day-care services with a nursery school Children four or five years of age having access to pre-school education measures and mandatory school attendance for those from six to twelve. As for regional stratification, the sample reflects a certain over-representation concerning the demographic weight for the region and belt of Montreal, Monteregie and the Laurentians-Lanaudiere region, and a slight under-representation of the metropolitan Montreal region. Moreover, the major portion of households represented are situated at or below the level of the low income threshold, 22% of them not attaining this threshold, 72% being in the national fork of average income and 6% earning an income situated in the first two deciles of this fork. The proportion of mothers earning a low income is far superior to that of fathers. The calculation takes into account the following weighting variables: gross cumulative family income declared, number of individuals in the family, residence in an urban zone of importance, in a small village, on the outskirts or in a rural zone (Statistics Canada, 2004).

Less than 5% of responding mothers and 1,5 % of fathers are 25 years of age or less, close to 68% of mothers and 59% of fathers are between 26 and 40 years of age. The proportion of parents without a high school diploma, namely 8.7% of responding mothers and 13.1% of fathers, is clearly inferior to the Quebec national average that for both genders, is 28.4%, therefore at 35.6% for men and 21.1% for women (Statistics Canada, 2004). In short, our sample generally has more years of schooling than the provincial average. However, the difference between genders in terms of schooling seems to reflect a provincial trend: women have more schooling than men (L2= 521.71 [64]; p < 0.001). Lastly, the major portion of responding parents is distributed in an urban structure relatively similar to the one that defines the Quebec territory: 5% of households in the sample living in a rural zone, 19% in small cities or villages, 44% in cities of average importance or in the suburbs and 32% of them living in an urban zone of importance (more than 100 000 inhabitants). Lastly, the percentage of persons living in a rural zone or in very small towns or villages (24%) is slightly more important than the one it represents in the real distribution of the Quebec population, which is almost 21% (Statistics Canada, 2004).

Method

Instrument and method of data analysis

Our survey questionnaire was made up of an identification rubric of sociological characteristics of respondents, six thematic rubrics on information needs and training in the exercise of educational parenting competencies and, lastly, a rubric dealing specifically with means of access to information they privilege. In this article, we refer only to data relative to this last section of the instrument. Data analysis is based on the recourse to two successive statistics models. Firstly, we crossed the diverse variables associated with the socioeconomic status and the environment of habitat with each of the variables of selection of a medium privileged for access to information by calculating the chi square likelihood ratio when one of the variables crossed was nominal, and the d of Somers when the two variables were ordinal.

Secondly, we used a model of multiple correspondence analyses integrating the media privileged and the principal variables defining socioeconomic deprivation, namely, mother’s schooling, family income, status of father’s employment, habitat environment and a synthesis variable of Quebec administrative regions. Just like factorial correspondence analysis, multiple correspondence analyses integrate calculation algorithms including routines of control on the effect of over-representation, or, conversely, under-representation of the effective specific to zones of interaction of categories of variables crossed. There is therefore control and decrease in a source of major bias associated with distortion that generates the projection of a multidimensional partition on a two-dimension level (Blasius, 1994; Böckenholt & Takane, 1994; Heiser & Meulman, 1995; Meulman, Van der Kooji & Heiser, 2004).

Results

A first structure of bivariate analyses crossing variables describing the type of media privileged for access to information on the one hand, and on the other, context variables associated with socioeconomic deprivation and the environment of residence, allows us to make interesting observations. Thus, the variables “wish to receive information by e-mail” and “status of employment” are significantly associated (L2= 10. 19 [3], p < 0.017), respondents holding a regular job being over-represented in this category. The environment of residence is significantly associated with the variables “receive information by e-mail” (L2= 15. 87 [6], p < 0.014), “consult Internet sites” (L2= 19.58 [6]. p < 0.003) and “listen to information broadcasts on television” (L2= 16.10 [6. p < 0.013), respondents from urban zones with a high density of population preferring these media. Family income also determines just as significantly the type of support for access to information, low-income families systematically preferring traditional media (presented in table 3).

Table 3.  Type of media privileged according to family income (Somers d)
Medium of access to informationSomers dASE*PDetermining category
  1. ASE: Asymptotic standard error.

Favor receiving pamphlets, brochures, in the mail, from different organisms0.1670.0380.0001Under the low income threshold
Favor finding pamphlets, brochures, on display stands in various public places0.1090.0400.007Under the low income threshold
Favor borrowing books, specialized magazines, from municipal libraries, schools, day-cares, CLSCs, etc.0.1860.0400.0001Under the low income threshold
Favor borrowing video-cassettes or specialized DVDs from municipal libraries, schools, day-cares, CLSCs, etc.0.1350.0400.001Under the low income threshold
Favor listening, on a regular basis, to programs on these themes on radio or television.0.0810.0390.036Under the low income threshold
Favor receiving, by e-mail, information on these themes by a free subscription to a specialized service.−0.1000.0400.013SuperiorIncome

Lastly, the schooling of the mother also significantly affects the type of medium privileged for access to information on the exercise of educational parenting competencies (presented in table 4).

Table 4.  Type of media privileged in accordance with schooling of mother (Somers d)
Medium of access to informationSomers dASE*PDetermining category
  1. ASE: Asymptotic standard error.

Favor finding pamphlets, brochures, on display cases in various public places.0.0700.0270.010High school not completed
Favor receiving, by e-mail, information on these themes by a free subscription to a specialized service.−0.0810.0270.002University schooling
Favor consulting, on a regular basis, an Internet site specialized in these themes.−0.1080.0260.0001University Schooling
Favor attending conferences by specialists, at school, day-care, CLSC, etc.−0.0840.0280.002College or university schooling

Multiple correspondence analyses allow us to observe that households in the sample that privilege access to information via ICT (Internet and e-mail) are essentially those from middle or upper classes, living in an urban zone, more particularly in urban zones of Montreal or Quebec (presented in table 5). Parents who privilege access to information via the Internet, are essentially households who benefit from the highest incomes, where fathers hold a stable job and where mothers have more than average schooling (college or university diploma).

Table 5.  Multiple correspondence analyses: socioeconomic and regional determinants of privileged media
Medium of access to informationStatus of employmentSchooling of motherFamily incomeEnvironmentRegions
Favor receiving pamphlets, brochures in the mail from various organisms (family allowances, social services, school boards, etc.).Out of workHigh school completed or notUnder low income thresholdRuralMonteregie
Favor finding pamphlets, brochures, on display stands in different public places.At workHigh school completedUnder low income thresholdRuralMonteregie
Favor consulting, on a regular basis, rubrics in newspapers and magazines.At workHigh school completedAverage incomeSmall townCentre and east of Quebec
Favor borrowing books, specialized magazines from municipal libraries, schools, day-cares, CLSCs, etc.At workCollegialAverage incomeSmall townCentre and east of Quebec
Favor borrowing video-cassettes or specialized DVDs from municipal libraries, schools, day-cares, CLSCs, etc.At workHigh school completed CollegialAverage incomeSmall townCentre and east of Quebec
Favor listening, on a regular basis, to broadcasts on these themes on radio or television.At workCollegial UniversityAverage incomeUrban zoneMontreal Quebec
Favor receiving, by e-mail, information on these themes by subscribing to a free specialized service.At workUniversityAverage incomeUrban zoneQuebec
Favor consulting a specialized Internet site on these themes on a regular basis.At workUniversityHigh incomeUrban zoneMontreal Outaouais
Favor attending conferences by specialists at school, day-care, CLSCs, etc.At workCollegial UniversityHigh incomeUrban zoneMontreal Quebec

Inversely, parents with little schooling, benefiting from a low income and whose employment status is more or less precarious, are those who more systematically, privilege access to information thanks to means of diffusion traditionally used by governmental and paragovernmental organisms, namely the distribution of brochures and pamphlets, by “snail mail” or in public buildings. This characteristic is also the privilege of respondents living in a rural zone, notably in the region situated south of the St. Lawrence River between the two large metropolitan agglomerations, namely, Montreal and Quebec.

Lastly, parents in households benefiting from an average income, living in small towns situated in peripheral regions where the mother holds at least a compulsory school diploma favor more traditional media in order to access information. They will tend, however, to seek media with an access that is guaranteed by public cultural institutions, such as public or school libraries, government documentation centres, etc.

Discussion

Our data, just like the state of the scientific documentation, confirms the existence of a double trend concerning the fact of favoring ICT as a means to access governmental and paragovernmental information. This dichotomy is based on the socioeconomic status of Quebec households as well as on the territorial distribution of their accessibility to digital technologies.

As in other industrialized countries, the tendency of Canadian governmental organisms is towards the systematic appeal to Internet resources for the diffusion of information to populations and for interaction with citizens (Hernon, Reylea, Dugan & Cheverie, 2002; Rodríguez, Caba & López, 2007; Rondeau, 2004; Xiong, 2006). In large part, it is to assure the realization of this tendency that the government of Quebec, in a common accord with the municipalities, developed or is in the process of developing programs such as Connecting families or Connected villages of Quebec. It is also the logic that underlies the implementation of third programs such as The distant networked school that, other than assuring the survival of small village schools in peripheral regions, must transform its institutions into centres of service or access to informatics resources for the populations it serves (Allaire, Beaudoin, Breuleux, Hamel, Inchauspé, Laferrière & Turcotte, 2006).

The recent scientific literature suggests that accessibility to diverse services via the Internet, when informatics terminals are made available to citizens in public places, has a differentiated impact, depending on certain parameters (Slack & Rowley, 2004). Among these, let us mention the need for user confidentiality, degree of mastery of computer competencies and the type of organization of the environment of access to networked technologies (Rensel, Abbas & Rao, 2006).

When we refer to the possibility that the citizen who does not dispose of a private connection to the Internet has access to governmental and paragovernmental services via the utilization of public terminals, we must consider their limits in physical accessibility. Hence, apart from large urban centres, government and municipal premises often have limited schedules of access, depending on the time the personnel are available.

For populations that have a job, this type of constraint may often discourage the appeal to public informatics superstructures. For example, 762 of the 1115 municipalities registered in Quebec dispose of a library service. However, 741 of these services use school classrooms or offices of the municipal government in accordance with the schedules of public accessibility limited to a few hours a week, or on week-ends. Most of these services, unless they share space with the school library, do not dispose of an Internet access (Government of Quebec, 2007; Réseau Biblio du Québec [Library Network of Quebec], 2006). Inversely, in urban zones where these infrastructures are more numerous and potentially offer more flexible schedules of access, it is dimensions of computer literacy as well as representations of the usefulness of this type of access of services by the most disadvantaged populations that act as a limit for the appeal to Internet (D’Haenens, Koeman & Saeys, 2007; Hersberger, 2003).

Consequently, the democratization of access to information and training in the exercise of educational competencies by Quebec parents of young children implies that governmental and paragovernmental organisms respect a certain number of conditions. Firstly, government service centres requiring the presence of employees must be maintained, in peripheral as well as urban centres in order to keep track of the difference in attitudes of the customers with regard to electronic media, in accordance with the socioeconomic status and real literacy level of parents. Secondly, where networked programs of municipal infrastructures are applied with access to high-speed Internet and on broadband, service centres should be accessible beyond the regular government service opening hours, and the premises where computers are installed should include installation criteria that respect two conditions. These premises must be set up in keeping with the private character of access to terminals or computers, as well as the availability of competent personnel capable of supporting users whose level of computer literacy is weak or nil. The implementation of computerized service centres should also include the availability of free telephone lines for public use to allow direct contact by means of the use of equipment that is more familiar to populations who do not dispose of computer equipment at home and who are on a limited budget.

Conclusion

The efforts made at the present time by the federal and Quebec governments regarding the democratization of accessibility to the Internet on broadband beyond regions with a high population density are praiseworthy. Moreover, these efforts are generally situated within a national perspective to facilitate access to government information and to improve the quality and frequencies of interaction between citizens and the State. Nevertheless, the implementation of diverse computerized programs of government services also corresponds, in a concomitant manner, to a trend to rationalize the cost of goods and services offered by ministries as well as the constant trend to reduce grants to paragovernmental or non-governmental organisms. The impact of these trends on the real accessibility of populations and, among them, parents from disadvantaged environments, notably when they live outside large urban centres, may be perfectly contrary to the objectives officially pursued if the State does not take into consideration the effects of the digital gap.

Thus, contrary to the objectives of government policies, the increase in accessibility to information services and to training practices in the exercise of parenting competencies via the Internet, notably when parents belong to vulnerable strata of society, should represent a complementary and non-compensatory perspective with regard to services presently offered. This accessibility should take into consideration the characteristics of the most disadvantaged populations and, therefore, the most demanding of government services. Among these, the low level of literacy and computer knowledge of populations in low socioeconomic or marginalized environments, as well as characteristics regarding flexibility of schedule and the private character concerning access to equipment that the international scientific literature underlines, should be mandatory for planning the implementation of computerized services via the Internet and the setting up of access centres for these services.

Without such taking into consideration of the needs and characteristics of the most deprived segments of society, the placing online of government goods and services will only serve to increase the divide between social classes and between populations from rural and urban zones. This would be a contradiction and regression between democratic and social foundations that have guided the building of Canadian and Quebec societies and the social practices of the State for the past forty years. Is it toward this type of situation that the federal and provincial governments are aspiring? At any rate, this is not the meaning given in the discourse of cities and villages in peripheral regions to justify the networking policies announced with great advertising reinforcement since the start of the millennium.

Notes

  • 1

    Quiet Revolution: Movement for modernization of industrial and agricultural infrastructure and government services (education; health; social services; security of income) began under the liberal government of Jean Lesage in 1963. The social democratic ideology that marked the reform movement remained the dominant ideology under the liberal and nationalistic governments during the subsequent 40 years.

  • 2

    In bold face character in Table 1.

  • 3

    The province of Quebec is divided into 17 administrative regions, each one served by an administrative region for the different governmental ministries. These regions cover a variable territory, essential for promoting and maintaining excellent quality of life for the specific needs of its citizens. In our fact-finding study, some regions were agglomerated in order to provide for an operational stratified sample.

  • 4

    Terrisse, B., Larose, F., Lefebvre, M.-L. & Bédard, J. (2002–2005). Study of needs in information and training in the exercise of educational roles of Quebec parents of young children (birth-12 years of age) and appropriateness with services offered by organisms that support families. Quebec: Quebec research fund on society and culture, program of concerted actions on family and parental responsibilities.

Ancillary