It seems we’ve crossed one digital divide only to find another. The old worry was that the tech revolution would pass low-income youth by, because devices and internet access didn’t come cheap. According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, unequal access to technology may be less of a concern than differences in how students use that technology.
The Times notes that we’ve narrowed, if not closed, the technology gap between the haves and the have nots. Yet it points to findings by the Kaiser Family Foundation (among other sources) that low-income youth tend to spend much more time on their devices than their wealthier peers do--and very little time using them for educational purposes.
Why the difference? Experts speculate that low-income parents, who have little experience with technology themselves, are less able to regulate their children's use of technology.
One possible answer is better training for parents and students in how to use technology. The Times reports that the FCC is apparently weighing a proposal to "spend $200 million to create a digital literacy corps. This group of hundreds, even thousands, of trainers would fan out to schools and libraries to teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers."
Here's another idea: Let's revive computer science in schools. Douglas Rushkoff poses this critical question in his book Program or Be Programmed: "Do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it?"
The answer should be clear. If we spread access to technology without without equipping students to understand, apply and create technology, then the end of the digital divide might turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory.