Current research states that if you want to be able to speak a second langue fluently you need to be exposed to it as a child. We often talk about basic computer skills as a language, describing ourselves as computer literate or illiterate. This suggests that in order to be fluent in the language of computers, we need to be exposed to be exposed to them as children. But now that most school-aged children are being exposed to computers, why aren’t we all equally successful?
Because the Digital Divide is no longer about the ‘haves’ vs. the ‘have-nots’. Most children have access to a computer at school, but there is a world of difference between a school that can give each of its students a personal laptop and a school that has a lab with maybe 10 old desktops for a student body of 500+. This new Divide runs on socioeconomic lines.
“Socioeconomic status for many individuals ultimately determines what type of technology (if any) they will have access to and, just as importantly, how often they get to use it” (Morrone, Witt 2013). Being in a classroom with a computer is no longer enough to make our students competitive. They need to not only have the computer, but to know how to use it, and how to use it well. Libraries can make a difference here, but I believe that the real solution to this gap will have to be provided by the schools.
Speaking from my own experience, I believe that I greatly benefited from having access (both at school and at home) to a personal laptop. The high school that I attended was one of the first in the area to provide its students with access to laptops, able to be checked-out and used for both academic and personal pursuits. These laptops helped me to be more inter-active with my studies, and built the foundations of research skills that served me well in college. I went to a private school, and I know that the public schools in the area (though very good) did not have this program.
Libraries can do and have done a lot to decrease the gap between the old ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, but often lack the resources to do more than simply provide access to the internet. In his article in the Public Library Quarterly, Bo Kinney tells us that “…provision of Internet access alone is only one part of bridging the divide, which is a function of broader social and technological inequities” (Kinney, 2010). The Divide, like so many in others in our country, can only be closed by education.
This education has to come from schools, and at an early age. In their research into the Ohio school system, Lawrence Wood and Aimee Howley discovered that students attending schools in poor urban or rural areas had much less access to computers than students from wealthier school districts. Moreover, they also had older software and slower Internet speeds (Wood, Howley 2012). This needs to change.
We can tell ourselves that we’re doing everything we can for our children, trying to give them a leg-up by providing them with access to a computer. But access alone is no longer enough. Just because you put a set of encyclopedias in your child’s bedroom doesn’t mean that they are able to access the information contained in them. Our children need to be taught how to use the latest technologies to further their educations and succeed in life.
All students deserve this chance, and the only way to make that happen is to ensure that children from all socioeconomic have access to the same current technology, and are taught the same important skills. We’re working on one of those, let’s work on the other.
Kinney, B. The Internet, Public Libraries, and the Digital Divide. Public Library Quarterly, 29, 104-161. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01616841003779718
Morrone, M., & Witt, S. Digital Inclusion, Learning, and Access at the Public Library. Urban Library Journal, 19. Retrieved 5-17-14, from http://ojs.gc.cuny.edu/index.php/urbanlibrary/article/view/1399/pdf_9
Wood, L., & Howley, A. Dividing at an early age: the hidden digital divide in Ohio elementary schools. Learning, Media and Technology, 37, 37-41. Retrieved May 12, 2014, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/17439884.2011.567991