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Digital Divide

Diversity Data Explore how metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. perform on a diverse range of social measures that comprise a well-rounded life experience. These data call attention to the equality of opportunity and diversity of experiences for different racial and ethnic groups in America. A report from the Harvard School of Public Health scores the living conditions experienced by children in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. It reveals a consistently bleak picture for black and Hispanic children compared to white and Asian children and suggests approaches to address some of the factors behind whether or not a child thrives.

Student Jobs - The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) e-Scholar website provides all students (high school and higher), parents, and career professionals information on different educational opportunities offered by Federal Government departments and agencies, or partnering organizations.

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Are you looking for a summer experience that allows you to work along side people who manage the day-to-day business of our Nation? The Federal Government may have the right opportunity for you. Summer job opportunities are available in Federal agencies throughout the United States and cover a wide variety of positions.

Presented by University of Southern California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology In conjunction with University of California-Santa Barbara and New York University 2001

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education (ERIC/UD) has expanded the "Pathways" section of its Web site. Pathways is a listing of Internet resources related to a variety of topics researched by the clearinghouse, including youth violence, family literacy, and bilingual reading instruction. For those of you who missed the last issue of ERICNews, ERIC/UD recently added links devoted to issues surrounding Asian/Pacific American students and Web site design and construction. Now visitors to the site will also find another new link--the Latino Partnerships Pathway. This area highlights the cooperative efforts of various groups, organizations, and schools to build a supportive network of partnerships for Latino students and their families.

Urban Debate League
Bringing Critical Communication Skills to America's Urban Communities

Mending the Breach: Overcoming the Digital Divide
by Andy Carvin Spring 2000

The Digital Divide, simply put, is the gap between those people and communities with access to information technology and those without it. Yet, the fact is there are many divides, characterized by community, ethnic, economic, and age groups.
While some communities are gaining greater access to information technologies, others are falling further behind. According to the 1999 U.S. Department of Commerce report Falling Through the Net: A Report on Telecommunications and the Information Technology Gap in America:
  • Households earning incomes over $75,000 are over 20 times more likely to have home Internet access than those at the lowest income levels.
  • Whites are more likely to have home Internet access than African-Americans or Latinos have from any location.
  • Latino households are still roughly half as likely to own a computer as white households and nearly 2.5 times less likely to use the Internet.
  • Only 6.6 percent of people with an elementary school education or less use the Internet.
  • People with college degrees or higher are 10 times more likely to have Internet access at work as persons with only some high school education.

The Divide in our nation's classrooms parallels what we see in the larger society. The U.S. Department of Education report, Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms, 1994-1999, points out that while the percentage of schools with at least one connection to the Internet increased from 89 percent to 95 percent between 1998 and 1999, the nation's poorest schools--those where 71 percent or more of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches--made no progress in expanding connections to individual classrooms. The percentage of classrooms in such schools with Internet access remained flat, at 39 percent from 1998 to 1999. For many school-age children, classrooms may hold the best hope for access to information technologies, yet many schools struggle with basic infrastructure issues like leaking roofs and electrical upgrades, much less powerful computer networks.

No Easy Answers

Unfortunately, there is no one answer to solving the Digital Divide. Some critics insist that the Divide will fade due to market pressures, with decreasing hardware and connectivity costs inevitably leveling the digital playing field. There is some merit to this argument, but only in part. Falling technology costs have indeed allowed more people to participate in the Internet revolution, but the Digital Divide isn't simply an issue of whether everyone can afford access to the Internet. Other factors must be considered as well.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey, as many as 44 million American adult--one out of four--are functionally illiterate, while another 50 million adults are plagued by limited literacy skills. When discussing solutions to the Divide, many focus solely on increasing technology literacy. Technology skills, of course, are imperative for anyone who wishes to take advantage of the Net, but one cannot even begin to build such skills if basic literacy hasn't been mastered.
Another component of the Divide is the lack of high quality content for all Internet users. Much work still needs to be done in treating citizens as producers of information pertinent to their community's interests. The market has begun to create content for minority is one well-known example addressing the lifestyles of African-Americans--but it has yet to address the particular needs of many other communities.
The new Children's Partnership study, Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans, is the first attempt to identify content for low-income users of the Internet, both what is available and what does not exist. One key finding is that low-income users want more localized information, in addition to information at lower literacy levels and in different languages. Generally speaking, those persons interviewed indicated they would use the Internet more if there was content that was engaging and useful to them.
Similarly, when the market fails to produce content for a particular population, members of that population should be able to establish online spaces with their community's interests in mind. Scores of community networks like the Austin (TX) Free Net and Davis (CA) Community Network have pioneered non-commercial, local online content. Communities must embrace this opportunity and become producers of content that is pertinent to their cultures and needs.

Comprehensive Strategy Needed

Will the Digital Divide ever be solved? Admittedly, there will always be certain members of society who can afford the latest technologies before others, but there is much we can do to alleviate the effects of the Divide. Community Technology Centers (CTCs), subsidized Internet access for low-income families, and non-commercial community networks are some of the methods being implemented across the U.S. to lessen the Divide. But as programs develop, it must be recognized that many factors have led to the Digital Divide, and as a society, we need to establish a comprehensive strategy that addresses it from all angles. Access, literacy, content, cultural relevance and community needs are just a few of these factors. Only when we develop a comprehensive Digital Divide strategy will we be able to make a real difference.


1992 National Adult Literacy Survey. U.S. Department of Education, 1999.

Falling Through the Net: A Report on Telecommunications and the Information Technology Gap in America. U.S. Department of Commerce, 1999.

Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms, 1994-1999. U.S. Department of Education, 2000.

Online Content for Low-Income and Underserved Americans: The Digital Divide's New Frontier. The Children's Partnership, 2000

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