The Digital Divide

Have you ever stopped to think about why your grandparents and parents always ask you tech related questions, or why they struggle to just Google something? There are even students across the US that also don’t have access to technology in classrooms- things most of us took for granted.

The digital divide is defined as “the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet; and the wealthy, middle-class, and young Americans living in urban and suburban areas who have access,” by an article from Standford.

In 1997, only 21 years ago, less than 40% of homes in the US had a computer, compared to the 84% of homes with computers in 2013. While the digital divide conversation is still widely about access to technology, today this conversation has shifted to include those who may not be as technology literate.

This graphic from Connect Saint Paul from 2011 may be a tad outdated but is still very relevant to this conversation. It outlines that 32% of homes in the US still do not have access to the internet. 41% of schools cannot offer professional development opportunities to staff due to budget cuts meaning they have difficulty implementing new tech and teaching methods around tech in the classroom. Also, 16% of educators use tech to track academic achievement.

This problem of the digital divide in the US is most evident in those 65 and older. While the 65-69 age group may be more technologically advanced, as the groups go up in age, these percentages greatly drop.

So while this may be your grandparents calling you up everytime something pops up on their computer or the internet goes out, this can also be very stressful to those who want to try and learn the new technology. As they did not grow up around it, they are at a disadvantage already and then struggle to learn. This could mean less contact with grandchildren or even not seeing Facebook status to keep up with their family.

This divide also is evident in schools. The socio-economic gap between school districts puts students in poorer communities at a disadvantage. Many of these schools cannot afford tech in classrooms, computer labs, or even internet access in their buildings due to the cost of running and maintaining them.

Even if schools are given grants or donations of computers and technology for in the classroom, there’s still an issue around getting internet access to be available and strong enough for a student to run programs for educational use.

This problem could be detrimental to these kids futures. It’s estimated that by 2020 77% of jobs will require computer skills. This disadvantage can be seen by various groups of kids who have access and who don’t in the short film With Out A Net: The Digital Divide In America. For the kids with access to tech, their futures are bright and dependent on the ever-changing landscape that is technology. However, for those kids without access, they can feel behind or be unable to compete in the job market once they graduate.

To bring it home, 157,490 students – out of about 1.5 million statewide don’t meet the minimum federal connectivity standards, as reported by MLive. While it’s easy to think that this problem doesn’t exist so close to us but even schools 15 minutes down the road could have less access to technology than you did.

For those looking to make a difference, there are several organizations that you can find to donate to help this cause.

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