A reporter from Education Week called me today to get my comments about the supposed persistence of the "digital divide" among U.S. schools and school children. Apparently a speaker at a conference that this reporter had attended recently had made the point that although the divide in computer use and basic Web access has been bridged, a new divide is emerging in Web 2.0 applications, high-speed Internet, and laptops and mobile technologies The reporter asked for my comments.
Back in the late 1990s, I used to do a lot of work on this issue and the same point I made during those old debates is still true today. Namely, although the pace of technological diffusion is never perfectly even, the good news is that digital technology is getting out to the masses faster than every previous media or communications technology known to man. In fact, children are gaining access to digital technology and software and a breakneck pace. The problem that many parents (and schools) will face in the near future is not too little technology being available to children, but rather, too much!
But there was another point I used to always make in those old digital divide debates that still holds true today as well: We should be careful not to confuse the debates over "goods-based divides" versus "skills-based divides." Debates about what goods and gadgets kids have access to are interesting and at times can be important since some gaps can persist longer than others. But, again, when it comes to digital technologies, those gaps tend to close very quickly. That's because the market for digital technologies continues to expand rapidly and costs fall almost as quickly. A lot of it is even free, of course.
But skill-based divides are another matter entirely. There are deep and persistent divides in our educational system. The basic skills our children need to take full advantage of digital technologies are not always being instilled in them. But let's not pretend that this has anything to do with access to technology or the supposed existence of a "digital divide." This is about an broken, state-run education system that has short-changed our children in terms of basic skills. Let's find ways of fixing that mess and stop pretending that digital hardware or software has anything to do with this.