The digital divide is the gulf between students who have ready access to computer technologies and those who do not. Unfortunately, students on the wrong side of the divide often have a much tougher time in school. For example, a study conducted by the Federal Reserve showed that students who have personal computers and the Internet in their homes have a 6 to 8 percent better graduation rates than similar students who aren’t as technologically fortunate.
Unfortunately, according to an article written by Chelsea Clinton for The Daily Beast, more than half of minority households do not have access to computers with Internet connections. In comparison, only one-third of white households have the same problem. However, it is not only minority students who do not have access to all that the Internet has to offer. Many students who live in very rural areas also have limited ability to go online.
Because so many students still lack access to the Internet and its resources, it is important for educators and learning institutions to help bridge the divide for these less technologically fortunate students while they are in school.
Low-income and rural areas of the country where Internet access is uncommon offer many reminders of the digital divide. In contrast, in more affluent areas, where it is often taken for granted that children have easy access to the educational tools and resources on the Internet, teachers must always take into consideration that some of their students may not have the same advantages as others when creating projects and assigning homework.
Teachers who assign projects that could require online tools and research need to provide students who don’t have a computer at home adequate time during class to access the Internet so they can perform as well as students who have technology available to them in their houses. A teacher or an in-school technology expert should also be available to help guide these students on how to best make use of the Internet and computers.
While it is beneficial to also have computer time available before and after school to students, it is more important to provide this time during class time, as many low-income students rely on bus transportation to get to and from school, which may make it hard for them to arrive early or to leave later.
The Internet, if used properly, is a powerful tool that can make completing assignments and doing projects much easier. Students no longer have to make special trips to the library or study multiple books to find the information they require to complete a project. However, if a student isn’t careful while doing research on the Internet, his or her project could be laced with incorrect material or false facts.
One of the most important lessons teachers and technology experts can share with their students is how to research effectively on the Internet. Some of the points that should be stressed to students include checking all information found on the Internet with reliable sources, what constitutes a reliable source and how to find these types of outlets.
Because interactive whiteboards are basically large computerized screens, these devices are especially useful for teaching children on the wrong side of the digital divide how to use computers. Teachers should be careful to demonstrate each step slowly and carefully as they access the Internet so that children can learn from watching them how to access and best use online resources.
In 2011, the FCC announced its “Connect to Compete” program, which helps families who are eligible for the National School Lunch Program to receive broadband Internet for a much-discounted per-month rate. The program also sells inexpensive refurbished computers. While it is helpful for students to be taught digital literacy at school, it is also very important that these students have the ability to practice their skills at home on their own computers. This program makes it much easier for low-income students to finally get a computer and Internet in their homes.