Beyond Y2K: Bridging the Digital Divide

Article excerpt

As more people awaken to predictions of unspecified calamities at a specified date, Y2K fever is taking on a life of its own. However, the real measure isn't whether your computer keep working, or if the ball descending in Times Square stays lit after midnight. Y2K isn't just the end result of a bad design decision for storing dates in computers; it's only the first in an inevitable series of challenges that mark our entry into a new era, where consequences of access to information ripple throughout the world. As such, Y2K is more about equity than technology.

Some dismiss Y2K fever saying, "I don't even have a computer," missing the point that we live in an interdependent world. Others race to transform their homes into modern-day Arks, stockpiling essentials and seeking to ensure their safety through isolation. Perhaps only the Amish are truly prepared. This preparation isn't so much about what the Amish can do without (electricity, modern conveniences); it's how their sense of identity and community equips them to respond to any challenge with the full strength and talents of their members. Our diverse society and interdependent world remove isolation as an option for us. (Visit the MMS Web site to keep up to date with Y2K developments and to find instructional activities to link your classroom and community.)

Our schools can play a powerful, positive role in both the near- and long-term work that's needed. Information-literacy, critical-thinking, and authentic-challenging tasks, all high on the agenda of those who seek to improve student achievement, are just what's needed at this time. On the positive side, we have the example of students like Brent Lightner, who has grasped the potentials of technology to create lifelong learners and applied these potentials to improve his own prospects. Like thousands of other ThinkQuest participants, Brent has not only "learned how to learn," but has also learned the power of collaboration. Technology need not be an isolating force, it can be a formidable tool for groups to come together to solve problems. ThinkQuest has gone to great lengths to ensure that everyone, not just the well-educated, affluent people who typify Internet/technology users up until now, enjoys these benefits.

The Digital Divide: "Tracking" for the 21st Century?

There is great hope, however, embodied in the work of many groups and individuals. We are at last beginning to see solutions marketed expressly with the intent of reaching every child. Loudoun County, Virginia, has implemented a pilot program to assist and augment at-risk students' math competency that, after 1 year, has successfully led to an increase in students' standard math test scores. Students participated in the program, which featured computers supplied by Apple Computer and educational software from Computer Curriculum Corporation (CCC), during and after school hours. The majority of student participants did not have access to computer technology outside of school. In the January issue of MMS, we'll see a feature from a teacher who experienced these results and shares what it took to get them.

Lightspan's recent acquisition of Global Schoolhouse is another example of efforts to provide products and services that reach at-risk students, increasing motivation and achievement through focused applications of technology while allowing students to broaden their views and experiences of the world. Al Rogers and Yvonne Andres' pioneering work has resulted in the creation of an endowment to fund the continued work of the Global SchoolNet Foundation.

As challenging as improving standard test scores may be, there is a group addressing an even more profound societal challenge: equity. The Center for Language Minority Education and Research based at California State University, Long Beach, holds a vision of a powerful, humane, multicultural, and multilingual society. "Our vision of technology in service to communities has led us to engage in creative uses of technology in all aspects of our work, technology aimed at solving real problems, generating new knowledge and otherwise helping to amplify the voices of individuals and communities whose stories of adversity, challenge, wisdom, and strength often go unheard. …