The New Digital Divide

The New Digital Divide

Recently, I was fortunate to attend an Apple Distinguished Educator’s event for South East Asia. It was a brilliant event – there’s no doubting that Apple, at this time, has the will and the desire, as well as the tools, to engage in a campaign of digital destruction of education – after all, I don’t think anyone predicted the rapid way that iTunes has almost completely wiped out the real world CD industry. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you saw a Brash’s? Or a Sanity?

Of course, some might argue that education is a trickier market to penetrate, and involves a great deal more in the way of variety and complexity than retail, and I’d probably agree. Nevertheless, iTunes U offers something that was never available to teachers, previously.

That’s not what this post is about, though. I might write something about that later, but I wanted to write about something that I noticed at the Institute. There were teachers from a vast number of different schools and countries there, but for the most part, the teachers came from independent schools or international schools. Schools where there was a significant fee paying expectation and this meant that most of these institutions had a 1:1 program – or even a 2:1 program (that is, two devices for every student). I’m not saying every ADE came from one of these schools – far from it, in fact – but the majority did appear to be in these institutions.

So what? Well, I’m becoming increasingly worried that we are actually working towards the construction of a new underclass based on this digital divide. My argument is this: if we assume the effective use of technology to be vital in the 21st century world, and that skills in its use will be necessary to gain a meaningful career, then it follows that the students with the best skills will get the best jobs – regardless of how hard these other people try.

And that means that schools like these ones – high fee paying schools – and the students who attend them, will have an advantage over every other school or student. Think about it – students who have access to computers on a 1:1 program will spend hours – hundreds of hours – developing their skills. This is time that other students will not have. So that automatically makes the 1:1 students far more attractive than other students.

Is this contributing to a digital divide, where students from one set of schools are more employable than others? Or is this just an example of a digital divide that has always been present? And if it is doing this, what can be done to give every child a chance to succeed? Of course, the answer is not to take devices away, but rather work towards providing every chance the opportunity to develop these skills. Finding a method to do that, however, is tough…