Technology is all around us and is becoming an increasingly integral part of our everyday lives. Most of us use our smartphones to keep up with politics and world news, send emails and text messages, and quickly find answers to any questions with a quick Google search. The days of scouring encyclopedias, almanacs, and print newspapers are behind us…for some of us. But what about the millions who live without regular access to internet and technology, or those who struggle to understand how to use it?
The digital divide refers to this reality, as well as the impaired opportunities and negative impacts on the quality of life of people who don't have regular, easily-accessible internet available to them. This limited access is often observed in two facets: access and understanding. Lack of access to internet and internet-ready devices at home and a lack of understanding refers to having no or limited digital literacy and knowledge of technology, which creates an inability for some to engage in digital spaces in ways the rest of us take for granted. When considering these two things together, it’s easy to understand how limited access (or understanding) to the internet and educational technology would hinder the educational success and growth of students.
It is also important to consider a third facet: incentive. Because, similar to the struggle of a girl in STEM, too many students are being shown that a digital world has no place for them in it—not academically, nor in their career opportunities—and feel no incentive to try to keep up.
Who is most affected by the digital divide?
The digital divide is a global struggle and, around the world, it has been observed that the people with the least resources are the people most affected by it. In the United States, this means people who live in rural communities, the elderly, and people (especially children) in poor communities of color. A study by the Pew Research Center reported that the 10 percent of adults who don’t use the internet come from those groups.
What can be done to close the digital gap?
The combined lack of access and digital literacy places low-income students (especially students of color) at an even greater educational disadvantage, as well as a competitive disadvantage in higher education and employment opportunities after graduation. Even where access exists within schools, some teachers report struggles to keep students engaged and excited about using technology to meet educational objectives. While there are no easy solutions to combating these disparities, there are steps you can take in your classroom, including:
Creating professional development plans and objectives with your administration team for the introduction of educational technology and devices in your classroom.
Integrating educational technology into your lessons with care and consistency.
Teaching digital literacy and encouraging students to be good digital citizens.
Showcasing diversity in technology and highlighting the achievements of, and opportunities for, women and people of color in technology.
Taking field trips to local libraries to introduce students to library resources.
Why closing the digital gap is necessary
Without access to educational technology or the opportunity to learn to use technology effectively, students receive a lesser education that doesn’t allow them to explore their full potential. They are often less equipped and deemed less qualified for higher education and workplace opportunities, and a lack of digital literacy has been linked to increased struggles with health and nutrition and a reduced quality of life. The future is digital, but for millions of middle, high school, and even college students, it's not promoted as their future.
How can we expect to inspire a love of learning and understanding technology in children who are led to believe that no opportunities exists for them? Enabling access to technology for students, intuitive education on how to use technology safely and effectively, and ensuring students see themselves represented and that space exists for them in a technological future are all essential to guaranteeing students don’t inevitably find themselves left out and left behind in an increasingly more digital world.
The creativity is there. The potential is there. The spark is there. It is simply up to us to show them what they can do with it and to create space for them to do so.