Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Dealing with the Digital Divide

More and more technology integration in schools can absolutely have positive impacts on learning. There is so much potential there to help struggling students and get real-time data to guide instruction. But lately I've had this nagging feeling that the children (and teachers!) who can't afford the technology are getting left in the dust.

Many of my students do not have computers or internet access at home. However, EVEN IF their family has a computer that DOES NOT MEAN they get to use it much.  
Take my household for example. We are a middle class family - my husband and I with two children - 5 and 3. We have a desktop computer with internet and each adult has an iPhone. My husband works as a book reviewer from home during the evenings. So between 4:30 and 8:30 our computer is being used.  There is no time during the week for my Kindergartner to log-on and practice with the literacy website her school recommends. And every year it seems like more and more teachers require students to complete assignments online. Eventually, we'll just have to fit a laptop into the budget - but for many families that is going to be unattainable. 

A couple weeks ago, I heard a fantastic interview on the Diane Rehm Show with Susan Crawford addressing this issue. (Susan Crawford is a professor and member of Mayor Bloomberg's Advisory Council on Technology and Innovation. She is also the author of Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age)  As an educator and parent, this is what stood out to me:
  • Americans are paying a lot more for some of the lowest internet speeds in the industrialized world
  • Since the Internet is an "essential public need", it should be treated like a utility (gas, electric, water, etc...) with access guaranteed for all Americans at a fair price.
Already I can see the cloud in some of my students' eyes when other more fortunate children start talking about the Apps they've downloaded or the time they spend on their computers or iPads. 

Even in my house, we've had to make adjustments since computer time is so limited. As much as I really loved PlanbookEdu.com - I finally decided that it's more realistic for me to go back to paper and pencil plans.  I just couldn't find enough time to get on the computer to keep it updated and could not "get at it" in real time to make it flexible enough for me right now.

I wonder how many school districts are going to afford to keep up with technology when budgets are already stretched thin.

So what do you think? Should internet access be guaranteed for everyone?

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