Bridging the Gaps in Digital Divide
In the recent Ted Talks, Ramesh Srinivasan alludes on the inequities entrenched in digital technologies. He adds that between two and three millions of people are today using mobiles phones, and most of these phones have access to internet connections. Arne Holst (2019) estimates around three hundred millions of computers sold around the world from 2006-2018. These statistics show a promising future of a more digital world . Yet, the digital divide and inequity run the risks to become bigger and bigger if no sound approaches are taken.In the present post, looking at that status quo of the digital divide, in the lens of a professional educator, I would like to underline three pregnant issues in the area digital equity. I explain why the three are most significant and propose possible solutions—especially solutions that you can help in implementing to mitigating the situation.
1. Disparities between genders. Dr. Joy, a professor Digital Leadership, rightly points at some courses which have become as a reserve for male students, she reminds us some scenarios when one enters a class of Robotic and cries out “it smells like boys”! I agree with her. This example applies to learning digital technologies. There is a disconnect between male and female learners/users in the area of digital technologies. And this become manifest on technology job market. It is for instance hard to find females who running a Cybercafé, females who are technology oriented technicians, females who have created Apps. I think this is related to some education policies which have for many years conceived some courses as a reserve for male learners. For instance, in my secondary school in Rwanda, when I was finishing school, my school had only two females out of 25 male students in the department of school science and technology. One female student got a scholarship to pursue technology at the university level. This quandary could be addressed by dismantling taboos that women are not made for science and technologies. Female students have to be given opportunities to learn technologies in schools and get access to higher scholarships.
2. Imbalance of robust infrastructure. I see this disparity in the context of the sub-Saharan Africa and in Global South in general. While more than 90% of students could be found in rural areas, most of rural schools are not equipped with internet-connected computers. The few computers available are either connected to unstable internet rooters which could hardly serve for learning purposes: One may hardly download a pdf document or watch a Youtube talk. The remaining 10% of students who are in the urban areas could easily access digital technologies, yet their school are not equitably supplied with computer facilities. I was recently alarmed while talking to one the students in Rwanda. He wanted to apply to Kigali University. I checking on the internet whether the university has an online registration service. What I luckily found. I told him that he can actually apply online. The young man replied that he cannot get an internet connection from his residence. He was obliged to go near administrative offices, where he can get an affordable and accessible educational technologies.
To respond to this imbalance, there is a need for governments to expand broadband connections not only for administrative services but also for state and private education. Education is a human right. What make that very education available such as digital technologies should thus be a right to be rendered to each and all citizens. The more digital tools are made available to a given place, the more people will be taught and get to learn technologies. To attain many people, educational technologies have to be made available to the most possible learners, especially the less-privileged families and communities.
3. A deep breach in the usage of the benefits of digital technology. I suspect digital technologists did not conceive Google and its various functions for unhealthy usages. I am tempted to think that the inventors of Social media such as Facebook, Whatsup, Instagram, Snaptchat and others sought to help people socialize, communicate, to deal with this rapidly growing and moving world. The question is how one should use social media and other digital tools. Should they be used for whatever ends? For a passive consumption? The tendency is to enter into this digital world, and enjoy its the flow of information, consuming them passively, without contributing into it.
When I look at the context of Global South, there is significant percentage of people who have smartphones, internet connected computers iPads, etc. But how are these gadgets being used? When in the Global North technologies are being applied in commerce, in medicine, in transportation, in education and research, millions of people in the Global South possess digital gadgets to use two or three Apps: emails, and calling! Androids and phones are bought at a higher price, yet to be used for calling and picking up calls, for messaging, for downloading movies published on Youtube channels. When students could access their syllabus through their phones and iPads, many universities in the Global South are still lagging behind digital learning.
This predicament could be overcome by an extensive educational technology. It includes training technologists in different areas, cultivating into young people a healthy and innovative usage of technologies, such as creating websites for publications, creating Apps, it calls also all learning and administrative centers, schools and offices, to offer services and products facilitated by technologies. In keeping with National Educational Technology Program, 2017 (11) “There is a need to train student to a digital citizenship curriculum for students technology standards, from the international society for technology in education.