Have you ever stood on top of the Continental divide and looked off east and west to see the land sloping away towards the sea? Standing there on that divide, looking out upon the valleys to either side reminds me of the divide our children are facing in accessing digital information.
What is the digital divide? It may be somewhat surprising to realize that many disadvantaged youths only have access to technology and the internet when they are at school, and then only as they can find time to share the limited resource. If you think about it you can see the results every day. All we need to be is observant.
While having a drink at a local coffee shop I happened to note that there were a number of teenagers. There were in a few groups but 2 of them caught my attention. The first had laptops and they were doing homework and holding a conversation on what seemed like a current history lesson. They were asking each other questions and making assignments and looking things up and sharing. The second group did not have computers. This group sat there talking, but really it was gossip. The information they were sharing did not invite intellectual curiosity. Is this the result of a lack of access?
Like the top of a peak, access to information is now the summit we are all climbing. It is hard to not notice that we are now seeing the emergence of classifying individuals by if they are a have (technology) or a have not (technology). Unfortunately, current socio-economics is hindering poor and disadvantaged students. According to the U.S. Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) in a report released Nov 2011, in households making less than $25,000 a year, 57% of them don’t even have a computer. How can children without access to computer technology and internet access hope to compete in a knowledge based economy?
But wait, maybe this was wrong? Could there be a way to test this information? Recently, while mentoring a classroom of 9th graders, I asked how many of them had access to a computer and the internet. Almost all of the hands came up. I was feeling very relieved that maybe I was wrong about the Digital Divide. Suddenly, I had a sickening feeling that it was the wrong question. “How many of you have access to a computer and the internet outside of school, I asked. It seemed to me about 50% of the hands went down. “How many of you have access at home?” More hands went down.
Standing there at that moment, realizing just how much of a climb we have to help all our children find the peak of the Digital Divide was overwhelming, so I guess we need to get our gear and get to climbing.