George Lucas Educational Foundation

Have we forgotten about the digital divide?

Have we forgotten about the digital divide?

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Many make the assumption that students can just pick up a computer and use the tool as though it was natural. The digital divide exists. Community member and educator Katherine Judd states that students in rural areas do not have the technological experience. Plus she cites that only 35% - 40% have internet technology at home.

How can educators and parents address the digital divide at schools and in homes? Can we reform education without addressing the lack of technology in homes and in schools? What are your thoughts?

"I refer to the selective disregard for basic facts in regard to using technology in education reform. I could go on all day about this but allow me to state my views in two categories: 1)the current misapprehension that ALL people, students or otherwise, have some type of internet technology in the home, and 2) ALL people know how to USE that technology! I cannot begin to number the students who have come to me in tears because they cannot use the technology required. I spend nine tenths of my time in a computer lab explaining HOW the technology works, not the technology or the software, mind you, but BASIC computer knowledge, which, by the way, is NOT provided in basic introductory computer courses. We CANNOT continue to reform education with technology while ignoring two basic TRUE facts: 1) For most people, if the technology is beyond "point and click," they are LOST, and 2) despite what we hear every day in the media, only about 35-40% of the American public have internet technology in the home. The "facts" we continue to hear are based on urban areas where access and reasonable cost are available. I teach students from rural areas who become quickly frustrated by instructors who assume all students "know" the technology; after all, the schools provide it, so why don't they know it?"

"Again, I could go on all day! This misapprehension has a direct bearing on student retention and success. I cannot be the only teacher who has faced this problem and been told "not to worry about's the students' responsibility to know the technology." Granted, but HOW do they learn if no one will teach them? I strongly feel this issue needs to be addressed at all levels. Ideas? Comments?"


Katherine Judd

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Lori Day's picture
Lori Day
Educational Psychologist and Consultant at Lori Day Consulting

I blogged about this very concern recently when the new iPad2 came out, but focused on socioeconomically disadvantaged urban school districts with money issues and under-resourced technology staffing/infrastructure/support. Still, a similar issue. Here's an excerpt, with a link to the whole article at the end. Most people disagree with me on this, but it is still a real concern for me!

At first my iPad2 cynicism was directed at yet another expensive piece of hardware that would require infrastructural tech supports that rarely exist in poor school districts. Here again was another shiny new toy that could potentially further widen--or, conversely, narrow--the digital divide. It took some deep digging to find the few articles that addressed this issue evenhandedly. It was as if the ubiquitous slogan that "education will be revolutionized" obscured the very real problem of equal technology access across the socioeconomic spectrum. Theoretically this new technology could be deployed in schools throughout the country to enhance (even revolutionize) student learning, but could it really? Did Apple, the tech pundits, the academic intelligentsia, and all of the people in the educational trenches really care one way or the other? The coming of the iPad2 seemed only slightly less momentous than the coming of...well, let's leave religion out of this.

For complete text:

Katherine Judd's picture
Katherine Judd
College writing and communications teacher

Lori, I tried to access this link but couldn't open it. Probably a problem on my end...will try again later. I agree 100% with your assessment of this "new toy" technology that continues to bombard the American public. True, most young people are fluent in "texting" and "sexting" (sadly), but ask them to actually PROGRAM the little buggers, and they must go back to the retailer because they cannot figure out how it works! As I posted above, this assumption of knowledge is the leading culprit in low student retention and success. I live in Tennessee, one of the first states to win the "Race To The Top" finding from the government, and I have NEVER been more disappointed in the decisions made in the allocation of these funds. Roughly 60% of these funds are going toward teaching TEACHERS how to use the technology and buying NEW technology to insert into education. Most of this "new technology" goes to the large urban areas, none to the rural areas where it is DESPARATELY needed. Furthermore, I see NO CALL for technology teachers! Current teachers must find a way to teach yet another subject for which they have no education. This is prevalent in the rural areas. Some teachers teach 3-4 different subjects, only one in which they are fluent. Why? Lack of funds to hire the necessary teachers to teach the necessary technology to the students, let alone the teachers themselves. I confess I am a geek who keeps up with technology, because I know very few others will take the time necessary to learn yet another subject on top of what they already teach. Honestly, I don't think technology innovators and merchandisers care whether the general public actually knows how to use what is being sold, as long as it sells.

What can we do? As teachers? Stand up and take a stand against the assumption of knowledge. SHOW the administrators that students NEED to learn the technology by giving basic computer skills evaluation tests! Nothing proves like numbers! Then, tie those numbers to an experimental course offered pro bono after school. Watch the students' scores soar! Does this work? You betcha! I do it every single semester for my students. As parents? Shut off the music, the movies, and the pictures! Locate that instruction manual that came with the computer and LEARN WHAT YOU OWN! Then, teach your children! When do I do this? On rainy days and during school breaks. Sure, it takes time. Sure, it can be frustrating. But if parents and teachers do not come together on this issue and simply allow the rampant introduction of the newest technology JUST BECAUSE it's new, then we must also assume some of the responsibilities of falling scores and lower education in the American public.

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

The digital divide is a serious issue. You can read the Edutopia blog post, The Digital Divide Within: Creating a Level Playing Field for All Students. Also, School2Home is an innovative national program that brings 1:1 education to urban schools.

I hope you find these resources helpful. : )

Katherine Judd's picture
Katherine Judd
College writing and communications teacher

Rebecca, thanks for this! I've added the School2Home page to my favorites and will explore it more thoroughly this weekend. I also caught up on the blogs and added my own to the discussion there. All resources are helpful! :)

Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy)'s picture

I'm very excited to have just published a new Digital Divide Resource Roundup here on

You'll find brand new articles and blogs with the latest information, resources from the archives, and a list of links to outside organizations that have to do with the digital divide in all its complexity.

Let me know what you think!

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

Thanks, for sharing, Amy!

Edutopia Community: As you look through the Digital Divide Resource Roundup, please share with us your thoughts and ideas on how you might use them at your schools and in your classrooms.


Tony Clark's picture
Tony Clark
intermediate classroom teacher, previously HoF for Art and Technology

I have often asked the question of myself, do I measure digital challenges from my own limitations? I am reasonably capable with new technology as I type this with my IPAD2 and use my Interactive whiteboard in the classroom, but how frustrated do the students feel as they see me fumble away in absolute ignorance as they identify simpliar methods and short cuts as I go. I see them frustrated and fingers twitching as they want to hit the shortcut buttons on the keyboard and shout out when I can't find hidden tools in the whiteboard menu. But watch me go with my board markers and pencil when I sit down and demonstrate approaches to problem solving!
My wife can drive her car with great skill and understanding but ask her what is under the bonnet and she wouldn't have a clue! Many men would think it appalling that this is the case, as we were brought up with this knowledge, often forced upon us by our fathers. This was the case with early understanding of computers, with the need to use programming language. I remember as a child spending hours trying to get the computer to draw a line or create a pattern. The next stage was having to reload software packages every time I answered a computer generated message asking me if I wanted to delete something!
Modern software allows kids to experiment without the fear that they will break it and experiment they will!
We just need to get the latest equipment and software in front of them and offer them the support materials and encouragement for them to use it. Just like the pen and paper was a move forward from the chalk and chalkboard, so IT is for many of our kids.

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