To adequately educate our students they will need access to technology at schools and homes.
Jamillah Moore, PhD
Chancellor, Ventura County Community College District
In this era of Common Core type courses in schools using media for learning and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) breaking new ground, student learning in the 21st century is becoming increasingly technology dependent. Therefore, to adequately educate our students they will need access to technology at schools and homes. A school’s access to technology seems to depend on its location and a school with limited or no access to technology has to rely on face-to-face instruction.
What is the Digital Divide?
The lack of necessary access to technology is referred to as the “digital divide.” It is the gap between those with access to technology and those without it. In an in-depth report from the Department of Commerce, Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide, limited or non-access to technology continues to widen the achievement gap and to increase barriers to student success. The technology gap is a social equity problem. The groups at the failing end are predominantly low-income students of color, children of single parents, and those less educated and living in poverty. There is a correlation between income and access to technology. According to the U.S. Census, household Internet use has historically varied across such demographics as race and ethnicity. In 2010, 76.2% of non-Hispanic White households and 82.7% of Asian households reported Internet use at home compared with 58.3% of Hispanic households and 59.6% of Black households. Access is also impacted by income. Households with incomes of $75,000 and higher are 20 times more likely to have access to the Internet than those at the lowest income levels and 9 times as likely to have a computer at home. Unfortunately, these social and economic “gaps” are not new and have been developing since desegregation. According to the White House, only 20% of teachers believe their classrooms have adequate Internet connectivity to meet their teaching needs. In June 2013, President Obama initiated his ConnectED Initiative. This program’s objective is to provide Internet connectivity to 99% of U.S. students within five years. The challenge to this proposal is that it presently has no additional funding earmarked. Instead, the administration will direct implementation of the plan through existing funds. With no new funds the initiative will be viewed as an unfunded mandate and less likely to increase access in the classroom.
The digital divide is a social issue. If it were just about equipment, there would be an easier timeline to eradicate this divide. There are many decisions to be made, including knowing what type of equipment is needed for an appropriate outcome and developing training programs for using the equipment. Individuals may have access to a computer, but without training, they will not know how to use it for such basic functions as word processing and accessing the Internet to research relevant information. Specifically, there is a difference between knowing how to access and operate a Smartphone and knowing how to create a PowerPoint presentation. According to a survey by the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA), people with little to no access to a computer or the ability to put together a PowerPoint presentation on average earn less than $25,000 annually and 26% of these individuals have no Internet in their homes because they cannot afford it.
Equity is an Issue
According to the Center for Urban Education, equity in education creates opportunities for equal access and success among historically underrepresented student populations. Ethnic minority, low-income and students with disabilities are examples. Equity should be at the core of all research on narrowing the “digital divide” and such research should prove invaluable to increasing educational access, student success, and economic stability. Equity in education allows for fairness, inclusion, and socio-economic improvement. Evidence shows that equity works to increase educational attainment in schools and improve college attendance. Education needs equity at the participation level, the resource level, and within the school’s mission. The ability of schools to reduce inequities in the classroom increases participation for historically underrepresented students. Limited or no access to education will severely impact access to technology. Nearly one in three adults has only primary or lower secondary education, a clear disadvantage in terms of access to technology and prospects of employment.
Narrowing the Divide
We need to integrate technology into day-to-day outreach. Social and economic online training programs for low-income people of all ages to increase their knowledge and understanding of technology are badly needed. One-stop learning centers like that of community-based service centers are vital to addressing this issue. We need to create and provide greater access to community colleges and community based organizations that can establish such neighborhood centers. These centers would provide access to computers in addition to social service agencies, housing, and churches. These centers should be located within or next to Head-Start Programs, Social Security and other social-service offices, and senior centers to help individuals in need.
Through equity measures we can make improvements. Schools need to improve communication with parents and foster their participation to help their children with homework. Schools need more outreach to parents in disadvantaged households to help them develop environments conducive to learning. According to OCED, schools need to establish after-school homework clubs. To meet these challenges we need to invest in early childhood education and adult learners with resources designed to equip classrooms and training centers with technology.
The United States will not be viewed as a competitive nation if certain groups are excluded from technology. If exclusion impacts our ability to fully prepare our students for success on the global playing field, individual and social implications will be significant. The Society for Media Psychology and Technology should take a leadership role to support prioritizing the use of learning psychology and technology among underrepresented populations to narrow the digital divide as a means for achieving equity in education.
Field, S., Kuczera, M., & Pont, B. (2007). No More Failures: Ten Steps to Equity in Education. Education and Training Policy, OECD Publishing. doi: 10.1787/9789264032606-en.
Lazarus, W., & Mora, F. (2000). Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide. Santa Monica, CA: The Children’s Partnership.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration (1999). Falling through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce. (July). (www.ntia.doc.gov).
Huskerson, T. (2013). Economic, Racial Digital Divide Creates Larger Education Gap Nationwide, www.ivn.us.
Digital Facts, 2010 U.S. Census data Facts.