The digital divide? No. My school is a school of opportunity

The digital divide

The “haves” and the “have nots” debate about educational technology has been going for years.

The schools with the money have the digital resources. The families with the money can buy the devices for their students.

Research backs it up. A recent Pew Research survey says that 84 percent of teachers surveyed believe that technology is leading to greater disparities between well-to-do students and poverty-stricken ones.

I teach in one of these “have-not” schools, in a rural west-central Indiana district where more than half of students receive free or reduced-price lunch because of their family’s low income.

I see the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.” I see students who carry their gadgets around school, and I see ones whose families just can’t afford them.

Money is certainly a factor, and it leads to opportunity.

But my school is a school of opportunity. It narrows the great digital divide.

We aren’t a 1:1 initiative school (yet), but no student has to go without computer or Internet access. Our hundreds of computers ensure that our 1,300+ students K-12 have access. Here’s what they get from it:

  • Our students learn how to be good digital citizens.
  • They learn about the reach of their digital footprints.
  • They use powerful communication tools to collaborate digitally. And they learn how to do it right.
  • They harness the information gathering power of the Internet for the educational gain.
  • They create: in video, in audio, in pictures. And they share.

Sure, some of my students don’t own iPads. They never will get Google Glass.

In a survey done last year, 63 percent of grade 6-12 students said they didn’t own a smart phone. A fifth don’t have Internet at home, and of those that do, 33 percent don’t have a high-speed connection like DSL or satellite Internet.

But there’s a ton of real-world-relevant knowledge in their reach that can empower them to greatness.

Our technology club has dabbled in coding. They’ve taken introductory courses in HTML and Java. They’ve tinkered with hardware and software.

They live on the bare minimum at home, but they have the latest technology at school.

Think of what that means, with ubiquitous information and free MOOCs (massive open online courses) to supplement their education. If that isn’t equalizer, I don’t know what is.

It’s a high order, though. Those opportunities exist, but students must grab them and hold on for dear life. They could take courses on artificial intelligence from Stanford. They could learn how to start and run a technology company in a course through Udemy for a fraction of the cost of a typical college course.

Pursuing a rigorous extra education isn’t easy with peers, dances, video games and a ton of other distractions staring you in the face.

The digital divide is there. The “haves” and the “have nots.” Some claim that new technology in schools is widening that divide.

I say no. When schools keep pace, it’s making great opportunities that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

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