“Digital Divide versus Digital Inequality”

The phrase digital divide has been around for quite some time (at least relative to the era of the Internet). The definition of digital divide seems to be agreed upon by many scholars. The digital divide can be “commonly understood as the gap between ICT ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’” (Sciadas, 2002, p. 4), or the gap between people with and without Internet access. The gaps between people has varied quite significantly over time. Sciadas (2002) also found that throughout Canada there was a difference in access amongst different groups of people. Internet use was much higher among families with income over $75 000.00 and families with incomes between $19 000.00 and $24 000.00, higher among graduate students than high school graduates, higher among urban dwellers than rural.  The digital divide has closed drastically in the past decade, but evidence of this digital divide still exist.

In many countries there are still clear examples of the digital divide. Consider the link available from World Bank below. If you click on the link below you will be able to see the people with access to the Internet per 100 inhabitants from 1990 to 2008. As you can see, there are still many countries with little access to the Internet.

Internet users as a percentage of population

In particular, there is a significant divide in Canada. Canada’s rural population is one factor that is feeling the brunt of the divide.

Iain Marlow and Jacquie McNish of The Globe and Mail (2010) reported that about 20 per cent of Canadians live in rural settings and about 60 per cent of those people   have access to broadband services, primarily through satellite or wireless connections. Only a minority of these rural residents, however, actually use high-speed broadband because the services are typically too expensive or undependable.” (para 13)

Another factor of the Canadian population that is experiencing the divide is the aboriginal population. Christine Smillie-Adjarkwa’s (2005) research suggests that “a strong digital divide exists between remote Aboriginal communities vs. all Canadian communities.” (page 5).

Researchers have begun to change their focus from a digital divide to a digital inequality. DiMaggio and Hargittai (2001) define digital inequality as “inequality among persons with formal access to the Internet” (p. 1). Other researchers have suggested that “usage is a divide” (Attewell, 2001) and that the inequalities exist in the way we access, change, and generate information and communication technology. Digital inequalities does not only mean that one does not have access to the Internet, it includes numerous other factors.

Eszter Hargittai (2003)suggests that there are five components to consider when analyzing digital inequality (p. 10). These components include technical means (quality of equipment), autonomy of use (easier access to resources), social support network (ability to draw upon people for help), experience (more time online equals better online skills), and skills (ability to use technology effectively and efficiently). These components will vary greatly from person to person. People who are able to access the Internet and meaningfully incorporate it into their daily lives will undoubtedly have better knowledge of digital society. The underprivileged will inevitably fall victim to increasing digital inequality.

There are many ways in which the Canadian education system can endeavor to address digital inequality. The ability of teachers to facilitate research skills, unlocking the content available to students, the amount of time spent using the Internet, and the skill level of teachers are ways in which education can assist in reducing digital inequality. This reduction will not be solved by education alone. There also must be support from all levels of governance and private enterprise.

In order for students to be able to understand how to find and use information pertinent to their lives, they must have the skills to perform those tasks. In Saskatchewan,  integral parts of the curriculum include the ability to distinguish if resources are reliable and to identify and locate sources of information. As teachers begin to teach these skills to students they will translate into all areas of their life in the digital world. They will help to close the gap of digital inequality.

Many teachers, particularly those in the twilight of their careers, have a hard time keeping up with the technology that students know, understand, and can easily manipulate. It fairness, it is hardly their fault. They are continuously expected to incorporate new initiatives into their already busy schedules. These  responsibilities include new curriculums, after school programs, extracurricular activities, and providing students with lunches. Mark Prensky (2001) says  “our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language”(page 2).Time and additional resources are ways to ensure teachers stay current in the area of technology.

Schools still exist where it is nearly impossible to research content because school divisions have such strict firewalls and monitoring systems that block an abundance of information on-line. In many schools

new technology still faces a great deal of resistance. Today, even in many schools with computers, Luddite administrators (and even Luddite techn
ology administrators) lock down the machines, refusing to allow students to access email. Many also block instant messaging, cell phones, cell phone cameras, unfiltered Internet access, Wikipedia, and other potentially highly effective educational tools and technologies, to our kids’ tremendous frustration. (Prensky,  2006, para 8 )

Superintendents, directors, and coordinators need to realize that new technology can be used ethically with proper guidance and supervision.

When teachers have the proper training and the ability to access the technological tools necessary to engage students, they will feel more comfortable using the Internet and technology. Without these skills, there will be hesitation to use the wealth of information and technological tools available to teachers and students. This will take time and resources to implement. If it is not put into practice, we will be doing a huge disservice to our students and their ability to learn.

I also believe that government and business have a responsibility in creating an level playing field for all in regards to digital inequalities. The private sector and government need to work together to ensure that communities have access to the Internet. The provincial government in B.C. has partnered with the private sector to help communities provide Internet access. There are now 366 more communities that have access to the Internet because of the program that was implemented (Iain Marlow and Jacquie McNish, 2010). These partnerships could also allow individuals to purchase equipment to access the Internet from home. This could be achieved by providing tax write offs as incentives for purchasing equipment. These are only a few suggestions which could help reduce digital inequalities.

Sciadas, George. The Digital Divide in Canada. Ottawa: Science, Innovation and Electronic Information Division. Statistics Canada, 2002. Catalogue No. 56F0009XIE. http://www.statcan.ca/english/research/56F0009XIE/56F0009XIE2002001.pdf

DiMaggio, P., & Hargittai, E. (2001). From the ‘digital divide’ to ‘digital inequality:’ Studying Internet use as penetration increases. Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Working Paper Series number, 15. Retrieved from http://www.princeton.edu/~arts…gittai.pdf

DiMaggio, P., Hargittai, E., Celeste, C., & Shafer, S. (2004). From unequal access to differentiated use: A literature review and agenda for research on digital inequality. Social Inequality, 355-400. Retrieved from http://www.eszter.com/research…uality.pdf

Iain Marlow and Jacquie McNish (2010, April 2). Canada’s Digital Divide. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/canadas-digital-divide/article1521631/

Attewell, P. (2001). The First and Second Digital Divides. Sociology of Education, 74(3), 252-259

Canadian Internet Use Survey Statistics Canada. (May 10, 2010). The Daily. Retrieved from  http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/100510/dq100510a-eng.htm

Prensky, M. (2006 Dec/Jan). Shaping Tech for the Classroom 21st-century schools need 21st-century technology. Student Fitness issue of Edutopia magazine as “Adopt and Adapt”. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/adopt-and-adapt

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants From On the Horizon (MCB University Press, Vol. 9 No. 5, October 2001) Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

TU Country rankings. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.itu.int/net/itunews/issues/2010/03/26.aspx

Smillie-Adjarkwa, Christine. (2005). Is the Internet A Useful Resource For Indigenous Women Living In Remote Communities In Canada, Australia and New Zealand To Access Health Resources? Retrieved from National Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research website: http://research.arts.yorku.ca/nhnf/DigitalDivide.pdf

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One comment on ““Digital Divide versus Digital Inequality”
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