Closing the Digital Divide
Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy, San Diego State University
Posted: Posted: 06/7/11
As globalization spreads, it is imperative that we not only close the “digital divide” in hardware and infrastructure, but also use technology to dramatically confront the world illiteracy problem in developing nations today.
In many parts of the world, a system of education either does not exist or girls, for example, are not privileged to get an education. Cyber education may be the only alternative to providing the basic skills for economic survival.
UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics provides a rough estimate of the world budget for education in the world, and comes up with the figure of about two trillion dollars. This of course, does not include money spent for tutoring, private schools, museum visits and the like.
But every child needs basic math and science and language skills, at least the three R’s and then some. So like payroll software, which every enterprise needs, why can’t we provide these forms of instruction through Cyber-Schools? Why can’t we develop the best, brightest and most practical methods of learning and make them widely available using the technology we have before us?
The Economist magazine recently teamed with Innocentive, an award granting corporation, as it advertises itself, connecting ” seekers with solvers” to enable other corporations the “shortest, most cost-effective path to finding a solution. “
Soliciting proposals, they noted, “educators around the globe are struggling with how best to update school policies, resources and coordination to provide students with the best possible education. This Challenge represents extraordinary opportunities and hurdles, but the most successful solutions will ultimately shape the next century and the lives of billions of people.”
Together they offered $10, 000 to anyone who came up with the “most meaningful contribution on the topic of Human Potential and 21st Century Cyber-Schools.” They were clearly concerned and searching for ideas. This effort produced a cell phone application for third world use: probably not what they had hoped for.
The Internet will soon be widely accessible with $35 iPad-like devices made in India, laptops from the One Laptop per Child Association, Inc. (OLPC) a U.S. nonprofit organization set up to inexpensive computers in the developing world, more traditional cell phones, and even game consoles.
Two of the eight Millennium Development goals adopted by the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 focus on education, but the goals — for all children to complete primary school, and to achieve gender equality at all levels of education by 2015 — will not occur.
One effort that might bear fruit is the initiative started by Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems called Currriki — for curriculum and Wikipedia — which is just beginning. Although founded in 2004 it has only now experienced resurgence since Oracle bought Sun and the founder of Sun, Mr. McNealy is giving the nonprofit new life.
But can we wait? And is this enough to offer the world the alternatives so badly needed? Is an idea here or there enough to generate meaningful change?
Probably not.The world needs a comprehensive solution, a Cyber-School portal now, and it needs the attention, support and commitment of more global corporations, government and the larger philanthropic community.