Digital Divide = Educational Divide = Urgent Action Needed

Digital Native is a common term used to describe those who have been brought up during the digital age of technology, and are therefore more familiar with computers and the Internet. It is widely thought that our young children are Digital Natives, however, in low socio-economic areas, the term Digital Native is often a myth. While students in higher decile schools will more often than not have access to an internet enabled device, this is not the case for students in low-decile schools (Hartnett, 2016).

There is no doubt that digital technology is changing every aspect of life from how we communicate to the way we learn. In the age of technological ubiquity, digital expertise is now considered an essential life skill (Hartnett, 2016). Technology is in fact changing the way we view schools, teaching and learning.

Unfortunately a by-product of the digital age is the “digital divide”. The OECD define the “digital divide” as the gap between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas at different socio-economic levels with regard both to their opportunities to access information and communication technologies (ICTs) and to their use of the Internet for a wide variety of activities. The socio-economic group a young person belongs to is influential in determining where they sit on the digital spectrum. Young people from lower socio-economic groups are less likely to have their own internet accessible device (Harnett, 2016). In the digital information age those who are either unable to access the Internet through the application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are increasingly disadvantaged in their access to information (Cullen, 2001). The digital divide causes a major inequality that has very substantial drag to our educational performance. This was starkly illustrated by this OECD official analysis of 2006 in the table below.

This educational inequality contributes to communities of poverty where the necessary skills in literacy, oral communication and numeracy are underdeveloped at the time of leaving school and where New Zealand’s economic progress is impaired due to a lack of competitive capacity in the employment market. And the situation is not improving. As the table below demonstrates from 2009 we are situated in the top-left quadrant where we have high reading performance as a country but above average impact of socio-economic status. This has to change for all New Zealanders to prosper.

As has already been mentioned, technology has dramatically changed the way we view teaching and learning. When used correctly, technology greatly enhances learning. Therefore the digital divide becomes an educational divide, as Wadi D. Haddad describes below:

There is no doubt that when we start talking about an educational divide, we are talking about inequality of the highest order. The tragedy of this inequality is that it is avoidable. As the OECD in 2009 suggests, “In an era of growing inequality, education policies that focus on equity may be an effective way to increase income mobility between generations and reduce income disparities in the future”.

If we are to look at creating an equitable learning environment, it is crucial that we look at ways to limit the digital divide. Ministry of Education, Hekia Parata has stated “New Zealand cannot claim to have a world class education system while a significant part of our population is under-served” (Parata, 2013). In the information age that we now live in, we must do all we can to give our students in low-socioeconomic areas every chance of success through creating an equitable learning environment for all.

So what is being done in New Zealand to combat the educational divide? There are a number of great Trusts using various models to provide students with equitable access to technology. I was inspired a couple of years ago after a visit to one of the more well known organistaions, The Manaiakalani Trust, to create a similar model in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. We have now created Te Aka Toitū, and our vision is to create a digital environment where every student has the opportunity to succeed in the future through learning that is accessible anywhere, anytime and at any pace. We aim to do this by providing students in membership decile one and two schools within the Kawerau and Whakatane Districts with an affordable device, affordable internet connectivity and quality digital teaching so they have the skills to contribute to their communities and the wider world in the future. We are on an exciting journey, and we have no doubt that we are going to eliminate the educational divide for our students so that they have every opportunity to succeed in our fast-changing world. To find out more about Te Aka Toitū, check out our website at www.teakatoitu.org and follow our journey by liking our Facebook page at facebook.com/teakatoitu.

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References

  • Cullen, R. (2001). Addressing the digital divide. Online Information Review, 25(5), 311-320. doi:10.1108/14684520110410517
  • Education at a Glance 2011 – OECD. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2016, from http://www.oecd.org/education/skills-beyond-school/48631582.pdf
  • Haddad, W. D. (2001). TechKnowLogia. Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.techknowlogia.org/TKL_active_pages2/CurrentArticles/main.asp?FileType=PDF
  • Hartnett, M. (2016). Differences in the digital home lives of young people in New Zealand. Br J Educ Technol British Journal of Educational Technology. doi:10.1111/bjet.12430
  • Parata, H. (2013). Letters of Expectation. Minister of Education
  • Skills beyond school. (2009). Retrieved May 09, 2016, from http://www.oecd.org/education/skills-beyond-school/educationataglance2009oecdindicators.htm

 

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