Caught Offside the Digital Divide

"Last week, I had to explain to more than one of my high school students what e-mail is."


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

In addition to all of the challenges I face as a teacher—and believe me, there are many (toilet-water leaking through my classroom ceiling, not having a working phone or a locking door, switching rooms four times a day, having my laptop stolen, coming out to my kids)—I believe that the technology gap is the biggest struggle my students face for their future. And my school does not (read: doesn’t have the ability to) help.

We have only one computer lab, in which about half of the computers are not functioning. This is a glaring example of how my students often don't have educational materials and resources that would prepare them for real life. At the high school I attended, we had the opportunity to work on advanced media production, writing poetry, and creating beautiful imagery to accompany it. Without adequate technology, I knew that my students likely wouldn’t be media mavericks coming in, but where they’re at has shocked me. Many don't know how to properly type in a website URL or even how to print a document. Last week, I had to explain to more than one student what e-mail is.


Two middle-school-aged students at the front of a computer lab class, deeply engaged in their work.


Photo by Bartmoni via WikiCommons

To get all of my students on a computer with access to the Internet and a printer took an entire week. For more than one class, I had to divide students between five different classrooms (each with a few computers). Forget true media fluency, how is a student supposed to ask me a question if I’m not even in the same room with them?

At the end of the day, of course, I can't let these limitations stop me: Technology is not a luxury today, it's a vital life skill—as noted by my state's learning standards.

What’s interesting is that funding for schools is sometimes extremely specific (for example, the federal school lunch program has very tight regulations, and we end up wasting literal tons of food every year because of them), but I see no regulation around student-to-computer ratios. I’d argue that such a rule is sorely needed.

For now, I’m taking measures into my own hand with DonorsChoose. However, I think it’s sad that such a critical commodity (which for my class could replace paper, pencils, and those nonexistent textbooks) is something that teachers have to crowd-fund for.



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