As students studying International Development, it’s often hard for many of us to remember that many of the “issues” we perceive to be challenges in only developing countries are actually also present in our own communities.
“Girard College Focuses on ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ During MLK Day of Service” helps us to remember that many Americans lack access to things that can improve their lives, especially technology. To commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr., a day of service was held in Philadelphia, and one of the service initiatives included a donation of netbooks by Girard College to 150 residents of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. The service also included helping residents learn how to use the computers, the internet, and to utilize online resources to help them find jobs and to apply for schools. According to the article, “‘Forty-one percent of Philadelphia households don’t have access to the Internet,'” a figure that seems, at least to me, astonishing for a relatively large city in the United States. The article stresses how important computer and internet skills are crucial to success in this modern era.
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District also served its community on MLK Day by providing 50 students and their families with “free computer and internet access for one year.” The lucky students watched a video, “‘How computers are used in education today,’” an apt reminder of the wide use of technology in classrooms.This digital gift is important because many students do not have computers at home, which can make it difficult for them to do assignments and to keep up technologically and socially with peers who do have computer and internet access at home.
Finally, technology also factored into service on MLK Day in the Champagne, Urbana, and Savoy communities in Illinois. UC2B (Urbana-Champagne Big Broadband), “an intergovernmental consortium of the University of Illinois and the cities of Urbana and Champaign dedicated to building and operating an open-access fiber-optic broadband network throughout the Champaign-Urbana area,” was looking for a way to spend its “community benefit” funds. Through these funds, UC2B hopes to eliminate the “digital divide” in its communities. Although how these funds will be used has not been yet determined, suggestions have been made that echo what both Girard College and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School District have done – donating computers and internet services and teaching community members how to use both. However, a more interesting suggestion has been to increase employment opportunities in the community by “provid[ing] job training for the installation of fiber optic material to area homes.” This would certainly help citizens in more than one way.
All in all, although our country does not have as significant a “digital divide” as developing countries, there are many Americans who are marginalized by their inability to access certain technologies. It is clear, however, that institutions and individuals are helping to close this divide, and as students, we can also help with this effort.