This week I’ve learned that the Digital Divide is a much more complex issue than I had previously thought, and I’m ashamed to admit I have been so naïve. I had assumed the Digital Divide referred to the gap between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (or Pioneers!) but I soon discovered there are many more facets to the issue of a divide. Wikipedia says the Digital Divide has to do with, “unequal access by some members of society to information and communications technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills” (Retrieved Feb 8, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_Divide).
Studies (Study: 'Digital divide' affects school success, The digital divide in Canadian schools, The Digital Divide in Canada) have shown there is a Digital Divide with respect to:
~ Age (Natives vs. Immigrants)
~ Level of education (uneducated vs. highly educated)
~ Race (Caucasian vs. Minorities)
~ Gender (males vs. females)
~ Socio-Economic status (rich vs. poor)
~ Location (rural vs. urban)
~ Globally (developed nations vs. underdeveloped or developing nations)
With regard to race, most studies focussed on the US and refer to a gap between the Caucasian populations and the Hispanic and Black populations of that country. But I wonder what the situation in Canada is with regard to our Aboriginal peoples who live on reserves. They often lack even the basics of adequate housing and it seems to me that they fall into the categories of race, level of education, socio-economic and location divides (as most reserves are quite isolated, at least here in Manitoba they are). So I have to assume a digital divide in access to technology and the internet probably exists in these populations as well.
The statistics discussed sound eerily familiar. Are they not virtually identical to illiteracy statistics for the poor and underprivileged, minority groups, the elderly and underdeveloped nations? (See the following articles: Canada's shame, Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, specifically the section “Literacy gap between technology users and non-users,” Literacy and Poverty, Study: The link between information and communication technology use and literacy skills, or the full report on the previous article here, there are so many more, but I don’t have the room to list them all!)
What is so scary about this is that not only do our poorest students have to cope with the issues that come with their poverty, but it seems they also have to contend with illiteracy and a digital divide in their access to technology, the Internet and related skills. It is a vicious circle. This is probably why Hugh W. Glenn concluded that “closing the purported digital dived will not necessarily decrease the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups.” (Retrieved on Feb 8, 2009 from http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/index.cfm?i=36693&CFID=19083695&CFTOKEN=32266091) They have so many more issues to deal with than just the digital divide. They have lower literacy rates and less access to technology so obviously they are also losing out on learning the “new literacies” (connective writing, communication skills, editing skills, information evaluation skills, critical reading skills, and information management skills) that Will Richardson speaks of in his book “Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other powerful Web Tools for Classrooms” (2006). These are obviously the “related skills” referred to in the Wikipedia definition of the Digital Divide. So in today’s world being illiterate takes on a whole new meaning. You not only have to be able to read and write, but you have to have the related technology skills.
Do I think the gap will close? I don’t know. But I can do everything in MY power to close it for those students I influence yearly. So how do I effect change?
~ I continue to integrate technology and teach all my students the related skills they need to
use that technology. (Skills level)
~ I continue to improve my own technology skills and be a role model for my students. (Skills
~ I continue to quietly scream about the importance of technology related literacies to fellow
teachers, other educational staff, parents, and even my students. (Access and Skills level)
~ I continue to encourage my fellow teachers to integrate technology and teach the related
skills to use that technology, and to increase their own skill level. (Access and Skills level)
~ I encourage parents who do not have internet access at home to get it. (Access level)
~ I do my utmost to engage EVERY student in school, and recognize that may mean using
technology in new and unique ways. (Motivation level)
~ I become an advocate for increased access, bandwidth, and more computer labs in our
schools. (Access and Policy level)
~ I become vocal about policies that inhibit access and encourage policies that open up that
access. (Access and Policy level)
The issue of a Digital Divide is so complex, but I believe it is important for all educators to understand. After all, if there’s a divide then we’re failing our students. I think Manuel Castells said it best when he said:
“The fundamental digital divide is not measured by the number of connections to the Internet, but by the consequences of both connection and lack of connection.” (Manuel Castells The Internet Galaxy, 2001, p. 269)