The goal is to create a digitally literate nation. Israel is famously the Start-Up Nation, but a quarter of the population is not even on the internet yet. That has to change. As the CEO of the Digital Israel Bureau, I oversee a nationwide initiative to bring hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the digital revolution. We are just getting started—but it is clear we are opening up a whole new world to entire communities at risk of forever lagging behind.
In the twenty-first century, basic digital literacy— the ability to search for simple information online, to access key services, or to draw up simple Word documents—is as important a skill as basic literacy and numeracy. Increasingly, intermediate digital literacy—online banking, online purchasing, and social media—is also becoming an indispensible, essential skill.
Basic digital literacy enables citizens to navigate the modern world, liberating their limited time and resources. The internet enables citizens to pay bills without going to the post office; it permits them to order doctors’ appointments through an app, and to access government services without waiting in line. At the same time, as institutions expect their customers to be digitally literate, basic errands become ever harder to perform the old way— municipalities are installing fewer parking meters because they expect residents to pay through the Pango app; banks are closing branches as citizens perform ever more transactions online.
Israel’s nationwide digital literacy initiative aims to reach one million citizens, focusing on the sectors that have been systemically ignored by the digital revolution: Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and senior citizens. Some of these communities, such as the Bedouins, suffer a lack of basic infrastructure; others, such as Arab women, need to overcome certain cultural taboos. Ultra-Orthodox Jews, for example, are very sensitive about having “kosher internet” access, which blocks any potentially “immodest” material.
We have developed several strategies to reach out to these citizens. By collaborating with the employment services, we can deliver basic courses to people as they look for work. Inspired by a revolutionary scheme in Liverpool, England, we are training volunteers to teach members of weak socio-economic communities through local authorities. And senior citizens, of course, represent a captive audience at senior citizen centres.
The Digital Israel Bureau was first established in the Prime Minister’s Office three years ago and now in the Minister for Social Inclusion, with the goal of turning Israel digital. The government recognised that it needed a central agency to draw up its digital strategy, and to coordinate the efforts of various ministries. It also recognised the need for Israel’s vibrant start-up culture to trickle down into the functioning of government—and the Digital Leaders initiative was established to ensure that this rich expertise make bureaucracy more innovative and efficient.
Israel’s national digital strategy is much broader than a drive for digital literacy. Digital Israel is responsible for the Israel’s government overall digital strategy, including revision of regulation, advising on how laws and directives need to change. Privacy laws, for example, were not written for the age of big data, and are hampering the opening and sharing of data banks. By working closely with the government’s legal advisor, we are crafting appropriate oversight for this fast-changing age.
As the Israeli economy becomes increasingly sophisticated, some even argue that advanced digital literacy—namely, coding skills—is also becoming essential. Israel is only taking its first steps in training the workforce for the digital age, but the potential we stand to unlock is truly limitless.