Digital Divide In Education

Like lots of other teachers, I enjoy reading the monthly edition of my state education journal. It always contains meaty articles about teaching and education that are great springboards for discussion. It also contains smaller pieces that are quick reads, and deliver useful facts and ideas.  But, is there really a Digital Divide in Education?

While leafing through the June issue, I ran across a reprint of an editorial from a local newspaper. I had to put the magazine down and walk away for a few minutes. The author’s claims and contentions that my state, and many others, are suffering from a Digital Divide In Education seemed reasonable, but made me feel like I had an itch I couldn’t scratch.

What The Article Said

The author began with the statement that technology is a foundational part of our lives, and that many children were being placed at a real disadvantage. Either poverty, or the remoteness of their communities prevented them from having access to computers and high-speed internet.

It’s then suggested to the reader that this situation is creating a group of digital haves and have-nots.  The author trusts that the have-nots can see “[t]he exponential possibilities these technologies can create.”  However, presumes that they will be cut off from these digital blessings without the benefit of the “village” providing “equivalent digital opportunities.”

So What’s The Problem

Three of the author’s statements paint a picture that assumes teachers and communities are failing their children. The three points most vexing are: Let’s pull back the curtains and let a little light of reality into the discussion.

  1. Due to poverty or remoteness of communities, students have no access to computers or the high-speed internet.
  2. There’s a crisis involving student’s usage and consumption of media.
  3. Research says it blunts students’ curiosity and skills.
    1. most students are happy to cut-and-paste bare minimum information for reports.
      1. Is this the “exponential possibilities” the author had in mind?

Let’s pull back the curtains and let a little light of reality into the discussion.

Students Have No Access to Computers or High-Speed Internet

This statement may have been true a few years ago. It may still be true in isolated areas. However, the research, articles, and anecdotal evidence says differently.

For over a decade, it’s been common for schools to have computer labs with banks of computers available for use during school hours and after-school programs.

Today, you’ll find that many schools are replacing their computer lab desktop computer model with a laptop, often Chromebook, in every student’s backpack model. Schools spend a healthy chunk of their operating budgets on internet connections.

What About After School?

When students don’t have access to the school internet capabilities, even the smallest libraries have WiFi availability for their patrons. The connection is on after the library closes for the night, and on weekends, too. If you can park close to the building, you can enjoy the connection from the comfort of your own car.

Don’t like that option? How about your local bookstore? Coffee shops and many restaurants also offer WiFi for their customers. There are definitely options available.

They may not be as convenient as having the connection flowing into your own home, but it works. Think I’m being unreasonable? These options are a fact of life for me, too.

I life in a rural area with very limited access. I’ve gotten very friendly with the folks at my public library, and I have my favorite parking space out front when I need a connection after-hours.

What About That Little Computer In Their Jeans Pocket?

You know what I mean. Student cell phones. If you read my article, Cell Phones and Teens-How To Cut Their Dependency, you read about the 2018 Pew Research Report. Here’s what the report found:

  • Ninety-five percent of teens own or have access to a smartphone
  • Eighty-eight percent of U.S. teens have a home laptop or desktop computer
  • That number drops to 75% for teens living in households with less than $30,000

As an aside:

I’ve taught in some very low income schools. Even children whose parents worked two and three jobs to provide for them had the latest cell phones in their pockets. Their media plans were superior to, and more expensive than the one I subscribed to.

My Take-Away On Lack Of Access

We need to be slower to jump to conclusions just because a situation doesn’t look like our version of “perfect,” or “how it’s supposed to be.” Being fair and being equal are two very different propositions.

One report I read while preparing this article noted that some people don’t have computers in their homes, or an internet connection by choice. It’s not that they can’t have the technology, but that they simply choose not to have it or the negative consequences.

There’s A Crisis Involving Students’ Usage and Consumption Of Media

The Pew report I mentioned above also discovered that 45% of students are on their phones “almost constantly.” This has created a situation that teachers, parents, and psychologists are scrambling to solve.

Students don’t just use technology in the classroom for teacher-directed lessons. It’s common to find that students have screens open to videos, computer games, and other media in addition to the assigned site.

And, while there are programs that allow teachers to monitor student usage of these sites, is this how we want teachers to be spending their classroom time? Operating surveillance technology?

This goes far beyond classroom management techniques. Research shows that teens and adults check their smartphones an average of every six minutes. You can read about it here.

We have students in our classrooms that are addicted to their cell phones, and we deal with it by giving them a replacement device to use during the school-day. How do we justify this? It seems like some kind of crazy to me.

My Take-Away On Crisis Of Usage And Consumption

Students will do whatever they can to entertain themselves; they always have. The ones who are truly addicted to their cell phone, and by extension, the Chromebook they use in the classroom, are forced to become sneaks by the expectations of the classroom. What does this say about us as a society?

Research Says It Blunts Students’ Curiosity And Skills

Cutting and pasting is one of the pleasures of using a computer. It makes editing a breeze. Unfortunately, it’s also made cheating super easy too.

I know what you’re thinking; lots of students cheat. But, goes deeper. It’s revising what we as a society believe is important and acceptable.

If you talk to students today about plagiarism, they seem stunned. The accepted belief is that if something is available on the internet, it’s free for the taking.

There’s so much material available, that they don’t seem to realize that each document, each word, is the result of the work of another human. It’s almost as if they believe the material just springs up fully-formed and waiting for their perusal.  The bottom line is many see nothing wrong with it.

Does it matter?

You tell me.

There are ways to approach this situation. According to Matt Miller over at Ditch That Textbook, “we don’t have a tech problem, we have a PEOPLE problem. Matt invites you to approach the topic from a different perspective, and asks lots of questions to encourage dialogue.

My Take-Away Of Blunted Curiosity And Skills

If our society has agreed that we must utilize computers to the fullest in all aspects of our lives, and we have, traditional techniques and approaches are no longer valid.

We need to be very clear on where this is taking us. I suspect this path will offer very few opportunities to make course corrections, let alone U-turns.

Do These Classroom Concerns Energize You and Get Your Motor Revving?

Instead of feeling energized, do you feel exhausted?  Do you find yourself looking for the nearest exit; wishing you no longer had to deal with these problems?

The truth is, you don’t.  You have options.

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4 thoughts on “Digital Divide In Education”

  1. What a great article!  My intake on this article is yes certain places lack technology resources for students.   They will have assigned projects that’s dealing with researching on the computer, and if it’s not done at school it’s not done at all because these particular students don’t have access to Starbucks, and are unable to go to the library due to having to go home after school, because the mother has to go to work, etc. 

    On the other hand, thank god my daughter has the resources at her school, but I don’t agree with having technology on your finger tips while learning. It’s a distraction and kids will find anything to keep themselves entertained, or even cheat to get ahead. 

    I personally don’t allow my daughter to get wrapped up in technology, because it’s a distraction from the real world!

    Teachers are paid to teach our students, not monitor them on their cell phones.  It’s takes away from study time, and if any parent disagrees, try home schooling your child with their cell phones in his or her hands and tell me how that works out.

    Great post and good work to all the hard-working dedicated teachers.   Keep

    up the good work; we love and applaud you forever!!

    • It’s a given that some students are going to have to complete their work while they’re at school.  Most of the time it’s possible, but the student must be dedicated.  It means not visiting with friends, or spending time on a cell phone, but going to the library and getting the assignment done.  It’s not the first choice for most students!

      I applaud you for teaching your daughter that lots of our technology is a real time-waster.  I also agree that teaching students who are focused on their cell phones is a futile exercise.

      Thanks for the kind words, and for joining the conversation.  I appreciate it!

  2. I agree with you about technology.  It is everywhere, and accessible if you put in a little effort. I don’t think it is going away or will be curbed.

    I would agree with Matt that it is a people problem, not a tech problem. It is how we utilize technology, just like everything.

    Do we respect it or abuse it, I think most do the latter.

    • I agree completely with you that technology is not going to be curbed.  It’s here to stay.  That’s one reason it is accessible to most of us.  Just as you pointed out, we may need to exert a little effort to get what we want, but it is available.

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation.  I appreciate it!


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