A Global Glimpse of the Digital Divide

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Technology has been hailed by some as “the great equalizer.” As an IBM inventor and White House Champion of Change Dimitri Kanevsky asserts: “technology is constantly evolving to remove barriers that emerge due to a person’s social characteristics, geographic location, physical or sensory abilities.” But does technology in fact ‘remove barriers’ or does it only exacerbate pre-existing ones?

In the 1990s, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration of the Department of Commerce began to report a stark divide between Americans with internet connectivity and those without. This gap became known as the “digital divide”, or a divide between those with access to new technologies — like the internet — and those without.

Since its conception, the term “digital divide” has adopted many nuanced meanings. When I taught high school, I witnessed the divide not through internet connectivity, which was pervasive both at home and at school, but in the availability of tech tools such as tablets or computers. I noticed that most of my higher-income students had at least 1 laptop at home, whereas many low-income students did not. Access to technology also varied with race, such that most of the White and Asian students did own a personal device while many of my hispanic students did not.

Now, as a graduate student in the field of education, I wanted to expand my understanding of this concept. First, I hoped to explore the different facets of the digital divide. In so doing, I aimed to discern how this “digital divide” varies on a global scale. Do other countries experience a digital divide? If so, in what way?

I interviewed teachers and members of my team at Edcite, who have been working in the field of education technology in countries like the United States, India, and Ireland. Though I saw the digital divide correlate with race and income levels in my own classroom, I didn’t want my own experience to color the questions I posed or the answers I heard from my interviewees. I made sure to ask open-ended questions and listen — really, truly listen — to the viewpoints of my interviewees.

Conducting these video interviews brought to light many new sides of the digital divide. While I previously perceived of the digital divide as unidimensional, I now know that access to technology can be a function of:

  1. Socioeconomic levels
  2. Race
  3. Urban vs. Rural: as Julia Sweeney (Ireland) pointed out, internet connectivity and ownership of digital devices can vary based on where you live in Ireland. People that live near or in cities like Dublin will utilize more technology tools on a daily basis, while those living in rural environments might be excluded from this. According to the Federal Communications Commission, this rural/urban divide exists in the United States as well.
  4. Public schools vs. Private Schools: as Amar Rajasekhar explained, the digital divide in India breaks down by public and private schools. Schools that are sponsored by the government have fewer resources all around, whereas private schools possess more technology for students.
  5. Gender: according to Brian McIntosh (United States), there is a divide in technology “interest” (which can lead to a divide in proficiency as well) based on gender. His computer science class, though diverse by race and socioeconomic status, lacks females.
  6. Age: I always believed the digital divide to be a student-centered issue. But, in her interview, Mary Joy (India) discussed the digital challenges facing teachers, which made me ponder the generational divide in relation to technology. Even if a classroom has access to high-tech products, teachers may not know how to use them properly.

Ultimately, each of the countries surveyed in this project did experience a type of digital divide. Though the divide can change depending on the context, it is clearly a global, not national, problem. Dismal as that may be, the pervasiveness of this problem also paves the way for international collaboration to address this issue. Here at Edcite, we are committed to providing a free platform that everyone can use, regardless of income level, race, gender or age. Our mission is to empower teachers be part of the digital solutions by sharing their own digital resources. What can you do to help close the digital divide?

5 thoughts on “A Global Glimpse of the Digital Divide

  1. This is an interesting article, and I like it. I am also a graduate student studying educational technology. Have you heard about facebook and Google’s mission to provide high-speed internet to the whole world? Mark Zuckerberg of facebook and leading a project called Internet.org and Google is leading Project Loon (http://www.google.com/loon/). I think this could be a great start to closing the digital divide. Getting people connected is only just one step though. Then comes the hardware. Where does the hardware come from? Good question…I’ll have to think about this one a little bit more!

    1. Zach, thanks for your comment! I have heard of both those programs, and I think very highly of them. Project Loon in particular is incredible! Have you heard of the “One Laptop per Child” program (http://one.laptop.org/about/countries)? They helped give one computer to every elementary school student in Uruguay!

      There are definitely projects that help to mitigate this digital divide. And there should be many more! Hopefully conversations like these can inspire others that bring this issue to light.

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