Digitization has become an integral part of every industry—transportation, healthcare, retail, education, etc.
In academia, schools now learn how to edit pdfs in education, learning platforms use online learning management systems, and teachers now rely on quiz apps for assessment.
But with digitization comes several problems with education. As more devices and platforms become part of learning, the digital divide widens across demographics.
In this article, we’ll discuss the causes and impacts of digital divide in education.
What is the digital divide?
The term “digital divide” refers to the gulf between those who have ready access to computers and the internet and those who do not. This divide is a menacing problem in education today as online learning becomes more prominent.
As much as we can resolve the current issues in education with technology, the gap between the privileged and the unprivileged still poses a big challenge.
Imagine two students studying for a test: one has a laptop and reliable internet to access resources online, while the other has to depend solely on outdated textbooks and limited resources.
This disparity can varyingly impact concentration, knowledge, and overall academic performance.
What causes the digital divide in education?
The inability of students to have equal adequate access to online educational resources is a result of certain obvious factors. Let’s discuss some of them.
Access to technology
Students scattered across the globe don’t have the same level of access to technological tools as their peers. Even in 2023, the age of AI, many people have minimal access to the internet.
A pupil in Nigeria might not have the same access to WiFi or even VR headsets as their counterpart in the United States. This affects their understanding of the learning material.
Families with higher incomes can comfortably invest in the latest technology devices and internet plans, enabling their children to take advantage of online learning resources fully.
On the other hand, low-income households cannot afford the latest technology. As a result, students and pupils from such backgrounds will struggle to access online learning resources.
We earlier compared a student in Nigeria to a peer in the United States. But let’s bring it closer to students within the same geographical location.
Students in urban areas can access online materials smoothly due to high-speed internet and advanced technology readily available. However, those in rural and remote areas have limited access to digital services.
Lack of digital literacy
Some people still struggle with the basic understanding of using a laptop, not to talk of navigating interfaces and advanced applications. Without proper orientation, some students will be left on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Language can be a barrier to students who are not fluent in the language used in online learning materials.
For example, non-native English speakers will struggle to find online resources, considering that most learning materials are available in English. So, if they can’t find the resource in their native language, they’ll have to rely on translations.
More so, such students also have difficulty communicating in online classes or group discussions, which leads to reduced participation in such activities.
In some cultures, traditional education may be the only acceptable form, and the use of technology is deemed unacceptable. This limits what a student can use in the learning process.
Some cultures emphasize gender roles and expectations, dictating whether girls or boys can pursue digital skills or education. This element of culture further widens the digital divide in education, especially for female students.
How to fix the digital divide in education
Schools and communities can bridge the digital divide in education by addressing the social, economic, and political forces behind it. Here are some practical solutions:
The government can approach this challenge by allocating funds to schools to provide technology resources. School administrations can implement policies that promote broadband access in underserved areas
Private organizations can also pick up the mantle of encouraging digital inclusion. Together with government bodies, they can distribute devices to schools to empower students to participate fully in online learning experiences.
Digital literacy training
Schools need to collaborate with the government to introduce technical learning curricula and eliminate limiting issues in teaching. They should also thoroughly train teachers and students to use digital resources to uplift education standards.
Schools must hold seminars and workshops to provide hands-on technical training for teachers. These training programs will show them how to use e-learning tools and other resources in the classroom.
The government should enlighten people — especially in rural areas and underprivileged communities — on the importance of technology in education to help the economy and society grow.
Moreover, digital awareness goes hand-in-hand with digital literacy training. More resources should go into highlighting the workings of new technology to teachers. This will make education accessible to everyone.
Tech companies and Network providers should give more thought to underserved areas by expanding and developing reliable internet access. By improving the physical infrastructure, communities can ensure that students, teachers, and families have equal access to online educational materials.
Following the example of tech giants like Microsoft, companies should alleviate the burden by providing affordable learning software solutions to academic institutions.
Inclusion of local languages
Many online educational content creators are guilty of assuming that everyone knows or understands the English language by default.
However, people are more inclined to use technology or similar tools when seeing content in the language they understand. Hence, the need for translation tools to create an inclusive learning environment for underserved communities.
Address social issues
Social issues include unemployment, weak educational systems, gender discrimination, and others. Lack of education reduces the chances of getting a job, which also reduces income potential—this is a vicious cycle.
Also, gender bias is a major hindrance to education and the advancement of technology. In some parts of Africa and the Middle East, women cannot obtain higher education.
To level the playing field, the government should create awareness programs to give everyone a chance to learn. These programs should focus on providing financial and social support to people interested in gaining technical skills.
The digital divide, if not tackled, will continue to widen as technology advances and gets more expensive. The number of people without access to technology is on the rise. And without access to quality education, the chance of building a successful career is slim.
The government should partner with credible NGOs to fix these education problems. Also, teachers and tech experts need to work on making learning materials accessible to all students.