The Need

The Need

Don Tapscott coined the phrase “digital divide” in his 1997 book “Growing Up Digital”. He wrote of the danger that we would “create a world of haves and have-nots, knowers and know-nots, doers and do-nots, people who can communicate with the rest of the world and those who can’t. This is called creating a structural underclass, and it creates wounds in society that will be hard to heal.”

Most commonly a digital divide stems from poverty and the economic barriers that limit resources and prevent people from obtaining or otherwise using newer technologies.

However, research shows that the digital divide is more than just an access issue and cannot be alleviated merely by providing the necessary equipment.

There are at least three factors involved:

  • information accessibility
  • information utilization
  • information receptiveness.

Beyond accessibility, individuals need to know how to make use of the information and communication tools once they exist within a community.

Our Unique Solution

The ComKids program was launched in Toronto in 1998 as a response to the growing digital divide which was limiting the ability of deserving youth to keep up with their peers in school.  The program promotes access, equity and opportunity for deserving youth.

ComKids is a community-based intervention with a proven track record of effectively supporting youth to become technologically proficient, improve academic outcomes, build confidence, make better life choices and build their communities.

ComKids connects communities with experts in the fields of technology, policing and education. The program partners with school boards and police organizations as well as corporations benefiting from extensive in-kind support. Programming is oriented to students in grade 7 (12 years of age) with continuing support lasting until they graduate high school.

A new laptop computer is provided to students entering the program. The laptop is earned based on program participation throughout the school year. It is meant to assist students in completing research and school assignments, nurture creativity and support students in social interaction among their peers using social media and other applications.

Program Milestones
  • 1997: The charity was co-founded by G. Scott Paterson and John McMahon with the vision to help “turn on learning”. Their goal was to get technology into the hands of students and help them to get ahead in the digital age.
  • 1998: Toronto District School Board joined ComKids as a Program Partner, and 28 computers are installed in homes in Regent Park.

Bill Blair (Chief of Toronto Police Service, 2005-2015) and the Toronto Police Service are welcomed as a Program Partner. Police officers communicated closely with students over eBuddy messaging service and email.

  • 2001: After a successful distribution of home computer systems and Internet dial-up services for 49 students in 2001, the program was ready for a full-scale launch of its community outreach program: ComKids.

Scott Paterson secured four founding partners to launch the Program: Rogers, IBM Canada, Microsoft and CDI College. With designated Toronto Police officers using eBuddy messaging to provide support to the youth, a healthy relationship between  students and  police officers began to develop.

  • 2011: After a decade of growth, ComKids reached a turning point where a total of 214 computers were distributed and the number of participating schools in the program doubled from previous years.
  • 2012: As ComKids expanded its reach in schools across the City of Toronto, the structure of the program needed to be shifted. With hundreds of students now enrolled, the need to adapt and accommodate a larger number of participants in each school was necessary.

The police officer mentorship, a key aspect of the Program, transitioned from the eBuddy messaging service to five in-person Lead & Learn sessions where officers came to the schools to share information and interact with the students over their lunchbreak.

  • 2015: A new record in enrollment was achieved when 600 new students were welcomed to the program in 2015. 

In 2015, a new partnership with the RCMP Foundation was established to expand the ComKids program outside of Toronto. Three pilot programs were launched in non-metropolitan communities in Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick; providing 45 deserving students with technology access their families could not afford.

  • 2016 – Through the new partnership with the RCMP Foundation, ComKids continues to expand. During the 2016/2017 school year, 805 students were enrolled in the Program; with 625 in Toronto and 180 across Canada.

New opportunities, such as workshops with Subject Matter Experts, were included to prepare older students with essential skills for their futures.

  • 2018 – ComKids maintained steady enrollment as 625 students joined the program this year. Changes were made to improve the quality of the programming for students and to focus on building more advanced digital skills, with the inclusion of blogs as part of the curriculum.
  • 2019 –  Thanks to a new partnership formed in St. Catharines with the District School Board of Niagara and the Niagara Regional Police, the program was able to pilot at two schools with 40 students joining the Program. With great success, the partnership will continue forward into the future. In addition to this during the 2018/19 school year, 786 students were enrolled in the Program; with 630 in Toronto and 116 across Canada.

Exciting times lie ahead as ComKids continues to grow across the province- in 2019, the Hamilton-Wentworth District and Catholic School Boards join as program partners. 

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Our Story

How ComKids is bridging the digital divide.