Digital Divide versus Digital Equity – A Canadian Perspective

Over the last hundred years there have been astounding advances in information and communication technologies with access to these technologies, at least initially, being directly related to income levels. It is logical that a lower income household would not purchase a new form of technology unless it is proven to be invaluable. This is the basis for the “Digital Divide” that has existed globally since the introduction of the Internet to our society. The more valuable a commodity proves to be, the quicker the divide closes. Television in Canada, for example grew from almost nothing in 1952 to 10% of households in 1953 to an amazing 80% in 1960, reaching total statistical penetration before the telephone, which was introduced much earlier. Time has proven that the Internet is our most valuable and beneficial form of communication, and with older forms of communication converging onto the Internet it can only increase in value. Consequently, statistics have shown that the digital divide is lessening in relation to economic status. Schools in lower economic and rural areas now have equal access to the Internet. Communities across Canada have equal access to the Internet through government initiatives with some Provinces and Communities building infrastructure to support free wi-fi services to large geographical regions. The result is that in 2011 most people in Canada do have access to the Internet; however, there still remains an inequity between people who simply have access and people who use that access effectively. Thus the term “Digital Divide” has evolved into “Digital Inequity”. It is no longer an issue of access but an issue of who can and will use this access effectively.
Schools may have the ability to provide access to the Internet, but there are inequities between training and instruction in technology in rural and urban areas. A child from a low income family is likely to have access to the Internet at school but not at home. The Internet can be a tool for education and career building, as a result the economically deprived child will not have the same advantages of a child with continuous Internet access, which may further restrict the child’s potential for economic success. The reverse is also true, that students who have proper training in all areas of Internet use will graduate with a distinct advantage over others who have not, creating “digital elitism”.
The inequity continues for people with a low income, low education, unemployed, age, race, single parents, people with disabilities, and gender.
Again, one of the prevailing issues in equality is economics. Service providers will have to charge more in rural or isolated communities simply because they have fewer customers; however, since 1995 the Government of Canada has taken a proactive approach by striving to provide the infrastructure, training, and assistance needed in isolated areas, especially in Northern Aboriginal communities. The government maintains that the Internet is integral for these communities in building opportunities for economic improvement, education, employment, and business and community development. There is little doubt that the inequity exists and that the Internet is an element of our society that has the potential for improving the lives of all people.The question remains; how do we provide equal access in terms of connectivity, training, and constancy for all?
It is imperative that teacher training institutions across the country provide the latest, quality instruction on the use of technology in education followed by consistent, relevant professional development opportunities for teachers as the technology evolves. Government agencies and businesses must recognize the importance of equity in technology education and access by providing economic support for individuals and programs for training. School district policies must look outward to global resources as sources for student learning and understanding.

Resources

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