Monday, August 23, 2010

Divide and education

One area of significant focus was school computer access. In the 1990s, better resourced schools were much more likely to provide their students with regular computer access; and, at the end of the decade, these schools were much more likely to have internet access.[17]
In the context of schools which have consistently been involved in discussion of the divide, current formulations focus more on how (and whether) students use computers, rather than simply whether there are computers or Internet connections.[18] Public libraries[19] and afterschool programs[20] have also been shown to be important access and training locations for disadvantaged youth.
The E-Rate program in the United States (officially the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund), authorized in 1996 and implemented in 1997, directly addressed the technology gap between rich and poor schools by allocating money from telecom taxes to poor schools without technology resources. Though the program faced criticism and controversy in its methods of disbursement, E-Rate has been credited with increasing the overall number of public classrooms with Internet access from 14% in 1996 to 95% in 2005.[21] Recently, discussions of a digital divide in school access have broadened to include technology related skills and training in addition to basic access to computers and Internet access.[22]
Technology offers a unique opportunity to extend learning support beyond the classroom, a somewhat difficult attainment until recent years.The variety of functions that the Internet can serve for the individual user makes it "unprecedentedly malleable" to the user’s current needs and purposes.[23]
Access to technology is further divided within schools according to socio-economic status (SES). The upper SES maintains access to technology at home, whereas the lower SES children are limited to technology access only at school. With the non-equitable availability of technology outside of the classroom, there will continue to be a divide among student groups.
Providing schools with technology is not sufficient to close the digital divide. Teachers must receive the appropriate training in order to use technology effectively and to increase student learning.
Although education could be used as a tool to close the "digital gap", closing this gap will not completely close the achievement gap between students from lower and higher SES backgrounds.
Education also extends beyond the classroom. Given that developing countries do not have access to extensive educational opportunities, there is still a great need for technological education. Technology has the potential to greatly contribute to the prosperity of developing areas. By bridging the digital divide, it is possible for poverty-stricken regions to enhance communication with other countries, therefore offering economic, social, and political opportunities. [24] With this however, there are several key misconceptions regarding the digital revolution. As noted by the Digital Divide Organization, introducing and implementing technology in poverty-stricken areas requires more than merely providing the resources. Poor areas need more than the equipment; they need to know how to use the technology in a resourceful way so that they can improve their circumstances, whether it is related to health care, economic support, or other areas of distress. [25] While the digital divide is narrowing in developing countries due to the increase in portable telephones and Internet access, there is still a great deal of progress to be made. According to Reuters, mobile phones in developing countries have greatly contributed to the economic success as small businesses expand their scope of communication and increase the number of transactions made. Additionally, the number of Internet users are increasing in these areas, which shows that resources continue to infiltrate poor regions of the world. [26] Although these facts exemplify significant advancements, the problem of literacy remains as one of the primary setbacks for poverty stricken areas. The misconception here lies in the fact that most people see the availability of technology as the primary factor in reducing the digital divide. As Ranjit Devraj states, “Even literate South Asians cannot benefit from the IT revolution without a working knowledge of the English language because of poor 'localistaion' -- a highly technical process by which computer programmes are translated into another language.” [27]Therefore, in order for the digital divide to truly decrease, more efforts in educating users on how to properly use the technology given to them will prove to be the most useful in helping developing countries.

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