The digital divide is often considered to be between the first and third world, or between remote and urban communities, such as that shown in the infographic below. However, as a city teacher, it is far more likely that I will be confronted with the impact of the socio-economic urban digital divide. This divide mainly influences students from low socio-economic backgrounds, and those who have parents or carers with minimal education or limited technological literacy: McLaren and Zappala found “education level to be the key driver of Internet access, followed in importance only by income level” (2002, p. vii). Therefore, I will need to be conscious that children within my class may lack home internet access, and therefore may have difficulty completing homework tasks, and a limited ability to participate in any online class social groupings (Sharma, 2014, para 7).
It has become clear to me that teachers have a vital role in supporting these students in developing digital literacy, to avoid entrenching the disadvantage of previous generations. Providing access to a variety of technologies at school is the first step. However, I was distressed to learn that the government recently repealed federal funding for the “Digital Education Revolution” school laptop program (Bita & Chilcott, 2013). This prompted some schools to move to “bring your own device” schemes: an outcome that would appear to disadvantage those who most need assistance (Bita & Chilcott, 2013).
This raises the question of what I can do, as a teacher, to avoid compounding and entrenching disadvantage. After some thought, I made this list as a starting point. I am sure that my ongoing education and eventual practical experience will provide further insight.
I must endeavor to:
- Meet the children where they are, and not expect every student to have a uniform level of digital capability.
- Be prepared to provide considerable extra effort and conscious scaffolding to grow their technological confidence.
- Be cognisant of my students’ digital access when setting homework and assignment tasks.
- Consider scheduling sufficient computer time within the school day and leaving offline tasks for outside school hours.
- Suggest and possibly support the school administration in developing a laptop loan program or similar, to technologically disadvantaged students.
- Actively advocate for sufficient government funding and support school fundraising efforts.
Bita, N. & Chilcott, T. (2013, 18 May). Students lose right to free laptop as Federal Government scraps Digital Education Revolution. The Courier-Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/students-lose-right-to-free-laptop-as-federal-government-scraps-digital-education-revolution/story-e6frg6n6-1226645686232
Lobbecke, E. (2011, 22 September).
McLaren, J. & Zappala, G. (2002). The new economy revisited: an initial analysis of the digital divide among financially disadvantaged families. Retrieved from http://www.google.com.au/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CDAQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.orfeusresearch.com.au%2Fweb_images%2FBackground_Paper_5_TSF.pdf&ei=jotlU6LOEcWnlQXi8ID4CA&usg=AFQjCNE2o5os4hghnvIU8hehLVo9A1Bc5A&sig2=cIkCsTV_4T_XTnnCO4HCzQ
Sharma, M. (2014, 26 February). Digital divide still an issue for low income earners. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/mobiles/digital-divide-still-an-issue-for-low-income-earners-20140226-33i7l.html