Bridging the Digital Divide

The term ‘Digital Divide’ has grown with the advances in ICT (information communication technology). Most commonly it refers to the ‘haves‘ vs. the ‘have nots’,  The population with access to and knowledge of how to use ICT as opposed to those who do not.

There are a few key factors that have been identified which contribute to maintaining or lengthening the digital divide. According to Atkinson & Black (2007), economic status, geographical location and culture are the key factors in the digital divide.

Curtin 2001 as cited by Atkinson and Black 2007 points out that ‘people on lower incomes are less likely to be connected to the internet  and the associated services’ and that ‘ as a person’s income increases, so too does the likelihood of having access to a computer’. Furthering the divide is the geographical factor, and how it can limit access. Location is cited as ‘a significant factor by many authors’ (Atkinson & Black 2007) the main reasons being, choice of hardware, software and providers, and infrastructure to allow internet access. The third major influence on the divide is culture. Some cultural communities may see no relevance to computers and the internet (Roberts, P. 2010). The cultural factor can also be influenced by geographical location and economic status (Roberts, P. 2010). This is relevant in Australia where many indigenous people live in smaller isolated communities.

Taking this one step deeper, the affects of the digital divide can be broken down into theoretical access verses affective access (Poore, 2010). Theoretical access where people may have access to a computer but it may be limited by factors such as: having to share a computer between all family members, having a slow internet connection or a small download limit. The opposite side of this is affective access where the user has sufficient: hardware, connection speed and download allowances (Poore, 2010).

This digital divide is having a massive effect on students in Australia and all over the world. Typically the digital divide was about having access to hardware-P.Cs, servers, internet and email (Poore, 2010), however it seems now to be ‘becoming more about access to knowledge and networks and the way in which people use them’ (Poore, 2010). This is why the Digital divide is becoming a growing issue for students, less at school, and more at home. ‘Students who do not have the economic and social capital to achieve meaningful and effective engagement with ICTs outside of schools, may find themselves disadvantaged as a new literacy paradigm becomes increasingly important for participation in social routines’ (Grant, 2007. as cited by Poore, 2010). Students are being increasingly divided digitally through social capital, economic capital and cultural capital. Socially students need to have connections and access to support networks and expertise in order to get advice, help and recommendations. Culturally students need to know perform and operate in an appropriate way within the digital world. Finally economically students need to be able to afford and have access to hardware, software and quality internet connections (Poore, 2010).  Those without access to these resources who are on the wrong side of the digital divide will be disadvantaged during schooling and into their future in the workforce. ‘Access to participatory culture functions as a new form of hidden curriculum, shaping which youth will succeed and which will be left behind’ (Henry Jenkins as cited by Poore, 2010).

The digital divide not only disadvantages people academically. It has now been suggested that the internet can play a vital role in a person’s mental health and well being (Blanchard, Metcalf & Burns, 2007). The internet can help promote social connectedness, civic participation and social skill development (Blanchard et al 2007).  Wyn et al, 2005 as cited by Blanchard et al, 2007 argue that ‘the internet is continuously increasing the possibilities of who we connect with and how we belong, on and off line’. It seems that with the introduction of web 2.0, the digital divide has grown more complicated. This means for people on the wrong side of the divide, they may be disconnected from communities and online connections which can interfere with mental health and well being (Blanchard et al 2007). It appears that ‘in an online context, young people in particular are developing a sense of self in relation to broader context and making sense of social issues and social boundaries’ (Blanchard et al 2007). This shows that young people with limited or no access to the internet may be socially disadvantaged, or inept.

 

Currently in Australia there is some effort being made to help close or bridge the digital divide. For people without access to affordable hardware and internet connections there are public libraries where internet and other programs can be accessed.  The national broadband network (NBN) is another initiative in Australia hoping to close the gap in internet accessibility in Australia. The 43billion dollar program aims to upgrade nationwide broadband networks and will allow regional towns ‘greater connectedness to other areas’ (department of broadband, communication and the digital economy. 2010). Other programs currently running to help close the digital divide include: the ‘Reach for the Clouds’ wired housing scheme (Meredyth &Thomas 2000, as cited by Atkinson & Black 2007), the Access at Schools program (Multimedia Victoria 2007, as cited by Atkinson & Black 2007) and the CTC at NSW program which places community tele-centers in communities of less than 3000 citizens (Rokesby et al, 2002, as cited by Atkinson & Black 2007).

 

It seems that the digital divide is something that has many causes in Australia and some effort is being made to help correct those causes, however this is a deep and complicated matter that cannot be addressed over night. The effects of being on the wrong side of the divide have not yet been fully explored but it is safe to say being on the wrong side can have significant impacts on a child’s learning which, can extend into their working lives. As for whether the digital divide is widening or closing cannot be said for sure, however Atkinson and Black point out that ‘as technology changes, the number of barriers to technology access also increase’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources

Black, R., Atkinson, J. (2007). Addressing the Digital Divide in Rural Australia. Retrieved from http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy1.canberra.edu.au/search;res=AEIPT;search=DN=169294

Blanchard, M., Metcalf, A., Burns, J. (2007). Bridging the Digital Divide: Creating opportunities for marginalised young people to get connected. Retrieved from http://www.inspire.org.au/uploads/files/pdfs/BDD%20Report%201_Yp%20use%20of%20technology%202007.pdf

Department of broadband, communication and the digital economy (2010). National Broadband Network 2010. Retrieved from http://www.dbcde.gov.au/broadband/national_broadband_network

Poore, M. (2010). Digital divide and digital participation . Retrieved from http://7840lwt2010.wordpress.com/2010/07/09/lecture-05-01-digital-divide-and-digital-participation-f2f/

Roberts, P. (2010) unit 7840 Learning with Technology, Lecture Monday 18th October 2010. [lecture power point slides]. Retrieved from http://learnonline.canberra.edu.au/calendar/view.php?view=day&course=3718&cal_d=18&cal_m=10&cal_y=2010#event_41375

 

 

 

 

 

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