A story in “The Washington Post” last week brought to life an issue that most of us have forgotten. The “digital divide” that captured our attention a decade ago is no longer in our lexicon as computer prices have dropped dramatically and our school systems have installed beau coups computers. The dramatic gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” when it comes to computer access has faded from our consciousness. Instead, we are now confronted with the “participation gap,” as explained by Dr. Henry Jenkins, a professor at the University of Southern California.

Dr. Jenkins explains that,

“Throughout the 1990s, there was a great deal of discussion about the so-called Digital Divide which was understood as a gap in access to new media technologies. Concerted efforts were made by those who saw digital resources as valuable to wire every classroom in America and to get networked computers into public libraries. Yet, as the dust has settled, we are realizing that the problem is only partially technical. There’s a huge gap between what you can do when you’ve got unlimited access to broadband in your home and what you can do when your only access is through the public library, where there are often time limits on how long you can work, when there are already federally mandated filters blocking access to certain sites, when there are limits on your ability to store and upload material, and so forth. We call this the participation gap.”

Annie Gowen of “The Washington Post” has given us an example.

“Julija Pivoriumaite’s heart sinks when one of her teachers . . . announces that students must go online to do a homework assignment. It happens almost every school day.”

“The 11-year-old’s mind whirls with the complicated and stressful options available to get her assignments done, since her family has no Internet service at home. She could work after classes in her Fairfax County school’s computer lab, but it is open only two days a week. The library has free computers, but time online is limited if it’s busy. Finding rides is tough.”

“I see my friends do their work, and I struggle to get the access I need.”

Dr. Jenkins has succinctly summarized the issue,

“Those with home access have a big advantage because they’ll have ample time to develop social networking, research and other skills necessary to succeed later on.”

Each of us needs to take the time to investigate this issue in our own school districts. Freedom depends on education. And, a level playing field is the backbone of an effective education. How does your own school system stack up when it comes face to face with the “participation gap?”

More on Friday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning