Sunday, November 21, 2010

Overcoming the Digital Divide

Many school districts have socio-economic diversity.  I know in our District there are school communities that are very affluent and others where families are quite poor.  We also have schools where there is a diverse mix of affluent and poor families.  When technology and access to the Internet is brought into the mix, we are unfortunately faced with the Digital Divide, a canyon so to speak, between have and have not families. (photo credits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bestrated1/29567927/)

We, as are many other school systems, talk about how technology (laptop, netbook, mobile) will become a common school supply.  This is based on the belief that tech costs will continue to decline and families often buy game consoles that cost about what a netbook costs today.  I wonder how close we are to this becoming a reality?  One where all families have equal access to technology in their homes, connected at high speed to the vast Internet, and their children have a mobile learning device to bring to school.

I read an article “Opening Digital Doors” (author: Donna DeGennaro) in the November 2010 issue of Educational Leadership.  The story takes place in Boston and how the citywide Tech Goes Home (TGH) program has provided computers to low-income families in 43 schools.  It involves providing a low-cost laptop (families pay $50) after parents / guardians have spent 25 hours in training classes (video available here).  This is an interesting mix of educating the adults, their children learn and teach along side them and help, and getting a useful 21st century tool in their home.  Kids help their parents learn search strategies and pursue career goals.  It supports the entire family in being connected to what has become an essential tool and resource for student and adult learning and managing other needs.  The parents are taught how to communicate with email with the school / teacher.  They learn useful skills with Excel to manage their home budget.  Overall, parent and student information and technical literacy rises.  The author writes about providing a rigorous curriculum grounded in

“pedagogy in inquiry, exploration, experiential learning, and the chance to make connections among various learning areas.  Digital technology is central to this inquiry focus.  Teachers use technology daily to support learning.  As a result, students see technology as integral to constructing knowledge.”, pg. 74

I think the last statement is important for parents and guardians to understand – the importance today of technology to support learning – 21st century learning, and personalized learning.  Another significant benefit the TGH initiative has produced is strengthened relationships between parent and teacher, parent and child.  

I believe the digital divide is not just a financial problem, but rather it is a problem of understanding the connection of technology to learning.  There is a divide in people’s understanding of how technology supports and transforms learning today.

We need to overcome both divides: understanding AND finances for families.  Could the Neighbourhood of Learning Centres (NLC) springing up in BC schools be an answer?  Could afterschool computer access be made available to parents with their kids?  Who would teach them?  What about IT support needs?