Digital divide is known as the ‘perceived gap between perceived “information have and have-nots”’. (Cohen, 2007) It is a term that often relates to the segregation of the higher and lower income groups in terms of the accessibility and knowledge of technological devices. According to a Pew Research Survey, ‘84% of these teachers agrees that technology is leading to greater disparities between affluent and disadvantaged schools’. (Barseghian, 2013) Due to this segregation, it has come to light that technology is the main reason for the widening digital gap in the education sector.
The fact that children from lower income families do not have adequate access to the internet or digital devices was the primary driver for the digital divide. While it may seem like a norm for students to engage technology for educational purposes, ‘only 18% of the teachers involved in the aforementioned survey say that all, or almost all, of their students have access to the necessary digital tools at home’. (Barseghian, 2013) The remaining students will have to rely on smartphones to get their assignments done. However, the quality of work performed on a smartphone will never be able to match one that is performed on a personal computer. Furthermore, the ‘rising cost of smartphone data plans is limiting the ability of the low-income students to get online’. (Goodman, 2013) The article ‘Tackling the Digital Divide: Low-Income Students Weigh In’ discusses the contrariety between the privileged and underprivileged students and how the poorer juveniles are overlooking beneficial learning resources due to their families’ socio-economic status. It was also mentioned that ‘the internet is the modern day encyclopedia’ (Schwartz, 2013), a required tool to assist students to better understand and work on their academic projects. Refuting the students of such experience just because they are less affluent puts them in a disadvantageous position when faced with working in the society later on in their lives. A vicious cycle is therefore formed as there is a greater possibility of underperformance from this group of individuals due to the lack of technological knowledge.
In America, the digital divide is not only the result of the segregation of the higher and lower income groups, but also the discrimination between races. Some schools ‘do not allow students of colour to use mobile devices because they think that those students will not use them in an appropriate way’. (Barseghian, 2013) These students are often stereotyped and denied of the rights of accessing valuable information on the internet. Besides the blatant racism, the growing number of digital illiterates is also contributing to the increasing digital gap. ‘Digital literacy refers to the ability to engage with, read and interpret multi-media as well as the knowledge to evaluate data in ways appropriate to the users’ needs’. (Purposeful Technology, 2007) The current problem lies in the inability of students to manipulate the data retrieved with technology to supplement their educational experience. These groups of users should be given guidance and encouraged to explore so as to create a conducive e-learning environment which is advantageous to all.
With the already widened digital gap, another concern that was brought up was the over-indulgence in using technology for entertainment purposes amongst the younger generation. According to the article, ‘Wasting time is new divide in Digital Era’, children in poorer families are spending more time compared to those from better-off families in using their gadgets. This issue arises from the ‘inability of parents to restrict and oversee their children’s usage of technological devices’ (Richtel, 2012) and is one of the common reasons that contributes to the digital gap. In a Kaiser Family Foundation study, it was found out that children of parents with a college degree spends 10 hours a day, whereas children of parents without a college degree spends 11.5 hours per day on multimedia. As the number of digital users increase, the importance of digital know-how increases as well. Students, parents and teachers should be educated on the potential danger of indulging in the usage of digital devices for entertainment purposes. This is so that the productivity and efficiency of the users will be improved, thus reducing the time wasted and narrowing the digital divide.
Personally, I feel that technology is a double-edged sword in which its consequence is largely dependent on the attitude and motive of its users. The internet is a very effective platform for the sharing of information and should be fully utilized for learning. As a solution to the inadequate number of digital gadgets, ‘One Laptop Per Child’ (OLPC) has been implemented. This scheme aims to ‘create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children’ so that they can be connected to each other and empowered through self-learning. The global non-profitable organisation behind the scheme ensures that students will be able to gain easy access to the platform and make use of the retrieved data for knowledge. It may be too soon to conclude that these solutions provided will close up the digital gap. However, technology, if used appropriately, will definitely be advantageous to the human mankind in the long run.
Cohen, E. (2007). Broadband Internet access, regulation and policy. New York: Nova Science.
Barseghian, T. (2013, February 28). By the Numbers: Teachers, Tech, and the Digital Divide. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/02/by-the-numbers-teachers-tech-and-the-digital-divide/
Richtel, M. (2012, May 29). Wasting Time Is New Divide in Digital Era. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/30/us/new-digital-divide-seen-in-wasting-time-online.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&
Schwartz, K. (2013, October 9). Tackling the Digital Divide: Low-Income Students Weigh In. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/tackling-the-digital-divide-low-income-students-weigh-in/
Barseghian, T. (2013, March 13). For Low-Income Kids, Access to Devices Could Be the Equalizer. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/03/for-low-income-kids-access-to-devices-could-be-the-equalizer/
Goodman, J. (2013, August 19). The Digital Divide Is Still Leaving Americans Behind. Retrieved October 2, 2014, from http://mashable.com/2013/08/18/digital-divide/
Purposeful Technology. (2007). Creating Digital Citizens –What is Digital Literacy? – Purposeful Technology-Constructing Meaning in 21st Century Schools. Retrieved October 1, 2014, from http://purposefultechnology.weebly.com/creating-digital-citizens—what-is-digital-literacy.html