Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The Cyber Sisters Club: Using the Internet to Bridge the Technology Gap with Inner City Girls

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The Cyber Sisters Club: Using the Internet to Bridge the Technology Gap with Inner City Girls

Article excerpt

The disadvantage of the disconnected becomes a critical problem for our society as a whole.

Strains of the Winnie the Pooh theme song mix with the Backstreet Boys' "We Got It Goin' On". In one corner, Yesenia waits impatiently for her photo of Leonardo DiCaprio while the printer cranks out the 13th page of the Titanic passenger list. At a table in the middle of the room, Tahisha and Lashonya hunt and peck on their keyboards as they "talk" to each other in the Headbone Zone Chat Room. Two girls at another table experiment with different backgrounds on their Web pages. The weekly meeting of the Penn State Lehigh Valley Cyber Sisters Club is in full swing.

For 15 girls from an inner city elementary school in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the after school Cyber Sisters Club means a rare chance to experience the technology that is changing the world around them. Like many schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, their elementary school makes do with an aging computer lab. With only three phone connections to the office, the health room and the Counselor's office, the school cannot provide even a modem connection to the Internet.

The plight of Mosser Elementary School is echoed across the nation. A study in 1996 found that schools with the highest proportion of poor and minority students were the least likely to have Internet access. In schools like Mosser with over 70% of the students qualifying for school lunch assistance, 53% had any Internet connection, and only 7% had Internet access in an instructional classroom.[1]

Lack of Access

Students from these schools, many of whom live in Federal Housing projects, also lack access to technological tools in their homes or neighborhoods. Unlike their suburban counterparts, these children do not spend hours of their free time surfing the Net or playing "Dr. Brain" on the family room computer. Not only do economically disadvantaged youth miss out on the educational enrichment provided by many computer activities, they begin their employment search with an inadequate resume of skills in a job market that highly values technology literacy. Add to this the increasing importance of the Internet in political and social discussions, and the disadvantage of the disconnected becomes a critical problem for our society as a whole.

Not surprisingly, minority students, many of whom live in these economically depressed areas, are woefully under-represented in all computer related fields. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1996 only 7.2% of all computer scientists were African-American and 2.6% were of Hispanic origin. Respondents in a recent survey of IS network workers by Network World reported that minorities made up only 5% of their network staffs.[2] Poverty may be only one of the factors contributing to the lack of technology experience among Hispanics. Dr. Anthony Wilhelm, Director of Information Technology Research at The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, recently studied middle-class Hispanics in California and found that "Spanish-speaking participants and recent immigrants emerge from a background in which there is little or no direct experience with computers ... Lack of familiarity, exposure and direct experience with computers among Hispanic parents manifests itself in feelings of anxiety, apprehension and fear over the role computers are playing in the lives of their children".[3]

The Gender Divide

The members of the Cyber Sisters Club, daughters of poor minority families, experience another handicap in the world of technology: their gender. A number of recent studies have confirmed the disparity between girls and boys in their technology skills and attitudes. The low number of women who take the Advanced Placement test for computer science, who choose computer science as a field of study and who are employed in technology related fields confirms that computer science is far and away a male dominated world. …

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