The Digital Divide in Education

Dec 17, 2020 by

The technology divide is a known fact facing school-aged children experiencing poverty.

Technology is changing how we live and learn. There are many advantages to the use of technology in education and it can help to promote equity in education and improve learning outcomes. However, this depends on equal access to digital technologies and services such as broadband.

The digital divide is the disparity in access to information technologies and digital services between different groups. This divide is especially important in the education sector. Because many children are unable to secure access to, and regular use of computers, networks, digital services, internet access and equipment. As a result, many are not fully benefitting from their education (Ritzhaupt, et al, 2020). Those from minorities and low socio-economic backgrounds are much less likely to have access to information technology and especially broadband.  According to research from PEW, ‘These broadband gaps are particularly pronounced in black and Hispanic households’ (Auxier and Anderson, 2020). Because so much learning takes place online or involves acquiring skills in information technology this disparity in access, means that many disadvantaged students are falling behind in their education (Auxier and Anderson, 2020). The digital divide impacts on the educational outcomes of students in a number of ways, here is how:

  • A lack of access to information technology means that many children become discouraged and are even reluctant to participate in some classes.
  • Children from more affluent backgrounds can have a better learning experience and have a higher level of engagement with their learning. This is having a negative impact on equity in education.
  • Students who have access to information technologies have a more convenient learning experience. Because many poorer or disadvantaged students lack these technologies they often have to travel for their education, which can impact negatively on their learning (Resta et al, 2018).
  • Because of social and economic factors, those children from more affluent backgrounds have a distinct advantage over those from disadvantaged groups.  They have greater access to computers and networks’ and this gives them a decided advantage over those from minorities (Auxier and Anderson, 2020).

The digital divide in education will have negative consequences for society as it means that the disadvantaged and minorities are unable to work in the new digital economy that is emerging. This will lead to even more social stratification and inequality, in the future.

How school leaders can close the digital divide

School leaders can enable all children, irrespective of background to work with information technology. Learning management systems can help students to achieve their potential and overcome barriers (Zheng and Liang, 2017). Firstly, leaders can ensure that there is greater access to IT resources in school. They should try to provide every student in their school with a device during regular school hours (Resta et al, 2018). One of the most significant factors that contributes to the digital divide is a lack of access to the internet. Portable wireless hotspots could be provided so that students with only limited or no broadband access can use these to complete projects and to learn during school hours. When selecting learning materials, for example, it should be possible to ensure that they can all be downloaded and stored on devices. They can then be used by students at home who are not connected to the internet. For example, E-Books can be downloaded and used by students without broadband at home. School leaders can work with the community and identify places where children can access broadband. Leaders can collaborate with parents so that they can identify low-cost options concerning internet connectivity. They can help parents to use resources such as Everyoneone that allows parents to source low-cost internet providers and affordable devices.

A national and local strategy to close the digital divide

Ultimately it will take initiatives by local and Federal authorities to close the digital divide in education. This is happening with the establishment of small-scale internet networks in poor neighborhoods, in cities like New York, or by diverting funds to initiatives to provide disadvantaged groups with broadband (Shira, 2020). There are social enterprises that provide free computers to disadvantaged children. School leaders could collaborate with and support these initiatives and thereby help to close the digital gap and promote equity in education in their school and school district.

Comment: How can a school leader assess if there is a ‘digital divide’ in their school?

Keywords: Digital divide, technology in education, equity in education.

References

Auxier, Brooke and Anderson, Monica. (2020, 16 March). Fact Think. Pew Research Centre. Retrieved from: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/03/16/as-schools-close-due-to-the-coronavirus-some-u-s-students-face-a-digital-homework-gap/#:~:text=2The%20%E2%80%9Chomework%20gap%E2%80%9D%20%E2%80%93,Hispanic%20and%20lower-income%20households.&text=School-age%20children%20in%20lower,likely%20to%20lack%20broadband%20access.

Resta, P., Laferrière, T., McLaughlin, R., & Kouraogo, A. (2018). Issues and challenges related to digital equity: An overview. Second handbook of information technology in primary and secondary education, 1-18. Retrieved from: doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-71054-9_67 ++ (ulaval.ca)

Ritzhaupt, A. D., Cheng, L., Luo, W., & Hohlfeld, T. N. (2020). The Digital Divide in Formal Educational Settings: The Past, Present, and Future Relevance. In Handbook of Research in Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 483-504). Springer, Cham. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-36119-8_23

Shira, Ovida. (2020 3 December). Think Local About the Digital Divide. The New York Times, 3 December, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/03/technology/digital-divide-local-solutions.html

Zheng, Q., & Liang, C. Y. (2017). The path of new information technology affecting educational equality in the new digital divide—based on information system success model. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, 13(7), 3587-3597. Retrieved from: The Path of New Information Technology affecting Educational Equality in the New Digital Divide—Based on Information System Success Model (ejmste.com)

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