September 4, 2013

“The digital divide mostly referred to the gap in access to technology in American schools and libraries. The goal over the last two decades was to provide every student access to networked computing. That challenge has largely been met — most American young people have access to the Internet through schools and libraries.

The participation gap takes it to the next level. When developing cultural competencies, there is a big difference between having access only in a library or at school. There’s a huge gap between what students with 24/7 broadband access can do and what students can do when their only access is through the public library or a school computer lab, where there are often time limits on how long they can work, when there are filters blocking access to certain sites, and when there are limits on their ability to store, download and upload material. This leads to a gap in skills and competencies.”

The above quote comes directly from a conversation with media expert and MIT Professor Henry Jenkins as published by the National Education Association.

Annie Gowen, in an article appearing in the “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.”

Finally, in a blog posted by Rachel Wilkinson, we can glimpse the challenge that lies ahead:

“Although the digital divide used to be a larger issue a few years ago, it is quickly decreasing as technology is becoming more advanced, cheaper, and easier to gain access to. According to the Pew Research Center, 88% of Americans own cell phones. However, just because the digital divide is coming to a close does not mean the participation gap is too. In fact, the participation gap is actually increasing rapidly. Both in Guidry’s and the Pew Research Center’s article, African-Americans and Hispanics are at a disadvantage when it comes to computer and cell phone ownership, as well as access to the internet when compared with Caucasians. The reason for this inequality is not due to race, however, it is due to underemployment, less education, and less money. . . . The reason why there is a difference in the experiences and skills between students and even adults is because there were certain groups who were able to buy these technological devices when they were more expensive and harder to obtain, while other groups of people simply could not. Therefore, those who have had access to these devices for a longer amount of time are more comfortable and knowledgeable than those who are just recently gaining ownership and access.”

It’s a problem that is not going away soon. But, it certainly behooves each of us to take the time to investigate this issue in our own communities and schools.

Freedom depends on education. And, a level playing field has always been the backbone of American education. We need to keep it that way!

More on Wednesday – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder
ITC Learning (Mondays & Wednesdays)