Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Bridging the Digital Divide through Educational Initiatives: Problems and Solutions

Academic journal article Informing Science: the International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline

Bridging the Digital Divide through Educational Initiatives: Problems and Solutions

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the information age, being on the wrong side of the digital divide can limit significantly a person's life chances. This is particularly true of the socially excluded in Ireland, who have had neither the wherewithal nor the opportunity to obtain highly paid, skilled positions in the IT sector. As such, they are observers rather than participants in the Celtic Tiger economy. On the other side of the divide, the national and multinational firms on which Ireland's thriving economy depends are starved of skilled IT professionals. In 1999, this situation became critical as Ireland was reaching full employment. At the time, Irish universities and third level institutions were not turning out enough qualified graduates to meet the growing demand. Worse still, bright school leavers from working class backgrounds were being attracted by the high pay and conditions on offer in the manufacturing and service industries. Then there were those who failed to enter third level education or who were underemployed or long-term unemployed due to their social circumstances and life chances. This gap between supply and demand required innovative solutions as the problems confronting the Irish Government, its various agencies, industry, and third level institutions were novel. This case study identifies these problems and reveals how one initiative was successful in providing a solution that met the needs of government, industry, third level institutions, and the socially excluded. On a theoretical note, this study's analysis of findings is based on a grounded theory approach (Lincoln & Guba, 1985); however, theoretical insights from institutional sociology are introduced to help understand and explain the findings. The following section introduces Philip Selznick's (1949, 1957) theory of commitment and examines the role of commitment in shaping institutions; Section 3 then outlines the research approach adopted for this study. The case report is presented in Section 4, while the final section discusses and analyses the findings and offers several conclusions.

Commitment and the Social Construction of Institutions

In his study of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Philip Selznick (1949) examined the institutional forces surrounding the development and implementation of a government-sponsored initiative. Here, Selznick described how an organization's character is socially constructed through the commitments entered into by social actors. He later refined this theory in his seminal research on organizational leadership. In brief, Selznick's (1949, pp. 258-259) theory posits that:

   The systematized commitments of an organization
   define its character. Day-to-day decision, relevant to
   the actual problems met in the translation of policy
   into action, create precedents, alliances, effective
   symbols, and personal loyalties which transform the
   organization from a profane, maniputable instrument
   into something having a sacred status and thus
   resistant to treatment simply as a means to some external
   goal.

Thus, when organizations are conditioned by the patterned, responsive interaction of committed individuals and groups, their formal systems--which are described as the technical, rational, impersonal and task-oriented component of organizations--are transformed, over time, into adaptive social structures. Support for Selznick's position is to be found in the cultural psychology of Jerome Bruner (1990) who argued that social actors establish their value systems by committing to 'ways of life' and that the complex interactions of individual 'ways of life' in turn constitute a culture. As with Selznick, Bruner provides a good example of the reciprocal link between the character of societies and institutional groupings and those of the individuals who constitute them.

Selznick (1949) delineates several types of commitment; these are illustrated in Table 1. …

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