Empowerment and the Digital Divide

I LOVE that technology is empowering young people.

While watching the Tedx video below I was blown away by the courage, intelligence, and ingenuity of young people like Martha from Scotland who raised awareness about healthy eating in school lunches by documenting her lunch each day on her blog. Or Sylvia, who posts her Maker projects online and inspires young people to get interested in robotics.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyIl4y_MRbU[/youtube]

These tweens are using technology in the best way possible by using it to amplify their voice. When I was younger my voice wouldn’t often go further than the ear of my teachers, parents, and friends. Now young people can be heard all over the world. The voices of young people today seem to hold more weight because those with intelligence and thoughtfulness are speaking up. They are providing examples of what you CAN BE at any age. I only wonder what kinds of things I could have, or would have done when I was younger if I had this digital soapbox to stand on. 

Photo courtesy of MonsieurLui on Flickr

Photo courtesy of MonsieurLui on Flickr

When thinking about how much the young people in the weekly readings were being empowered I started to think about people the same age who may have barriers to those kinds of opportunities. The kids in the Tedx video would have had access to cameras, smartphones, computers, and most importantly, internet access.

The other day one of my students said he couldn’t complete an internet based homework assignment at home because he didn’t have a computer. I work at an international IB school so I was pretty surprised. He only had internet on his dad’s phone. This isn’t common in my class but it is not uncommon in many parts of the world.

The “Digital Divide” is the divide between those who have access to technology and those who don’t. This includes access to the internet. An article by Edutopia called “A New Understanding of the Digital Divide” even makes the point that the divide has changed over recent years. It says that “while access to internet has increased substantially, the kind of access varies.” People have greater access to the internet, but often not in the ways that will help them academically. The use of social media is widespread, but you cannot fill out a job application or write an essay on your phone.

This has to have an impact on a young persons ability to feel empowered in a world where so many are benefiting from the opportunities that internet access and the right tools can provide. It makes me reflect on if I am properly informing myself about my students’ access to technologies at home and if they have the necessary technology to complete their assignments to the best of their ability. Am I giving their parents the required information at the beginning of the year to meet technological needs? Am I finding out what programs are available in my community that help close the divide? Things like library programs, internet cafes, free wifi hotspots, and laptop sharing.

I admit I do some of these things but I am going to make an even greater effort in the future to properly prepare and inform parents so they can meet the digital needs of their child.

While doing some research on this topic I found some great programs helping to do this too. Check out Close The Gap. They are  “an international non-profit organization that aims to bridge the digital divide by offering pre-owned donated computers to educational, medical, entrepreneurial and social projects in developing countries.” Basically they’re awesome. [youtube]https://youtu.be/lNZkJLYqqHI[/youtube]

Then there is Team Children in Pennsylvania and their Digital Inclusion Project. They have been collecting, repairing, and distributing computers to families, schools, and organizations in need. Their mission is to  “ensure every child has the tools and opportunities they need to contribute and compete effectively in today’s 21st century digital, global environment.”

Photo courtesy of Beyond Access on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Beyond Access on Flickr

It’s projects like this, and others all over the world, that are helping close the digital divide.

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