November 26, 2019

What is the Digital Divide? (and What Can We Do About It?)

GoGuardian Team
An illustration of two people sitting on globes

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…but not for all of us. There are millions who live without regular access to the internet and those who struggle to understand how to use the ever-evolving technology of our modern world. This gap between those that have and understand and those that don't is called the digital divide.

What Is the Digital Divide?

The digital divide refers to the reality that there are many individuals who don’t have access to the internet. This impairs opportunities and can negatively impact learning experiences. This limited access is often observed in two facets: access and understanding.

  • Lack of access to internet and internet-ready devices at home
  • Lack of understanding refers to having no or limited digital literacy and knowledge of technology

Both can create an inability for some to engage in digital spaces in ways that others have access to. 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 some 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 Experiences the Impact of 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 most affected. 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.

Bridging the Digital Divide in Education

The combined lack of access and digital literacy places low-income students (especially students of color) at an even greater educational disadvantage, They also face a competitive disadvantage in higher education and in 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. Though there are no easy digital divide solutions, 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.

Finding Solutions to the Digital Divide

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 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 exist for them? Enabling access to technology for students, education on digital citizenship, and proper representation of students is vital for their technological future.

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.

Learn more about the digital divide, digital citizenship, and more to support the technological education of students here at GoGuardian.