Academic journal article The Future of Children

Five Commentaries: Looking to the Future

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Five Commentaries: Looking to the Future

Article excerpt

To provide an array of perspectives about the role of computers in children's lives, we asked five experts across various disciplines and backgrounds to respond to this question: "How can we help ensure that computer technology is used equitably, effectively, and ethically to promote positive child development?" Their responses follow.


Milton Chen

Milton Chen, Ph.D., is executive director of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, a nonprofit operating foundation in San Rafael, CA, that promotes educational inspiration by profiling success stories of interactive technologies in public schools.

Equity is at the core of the question posed. Broadly speaking, technology cannot be used effectively or ethically unless it is used widely and equitably among all groups in our society and--thanks to technology itself--our increasingly smaller world. Equity of use is critical to ensuring that technology has widespread and effective impacts on learning, communication, and community. In addition, "equality of digital opportunity" is fast becoming a synonym for "equality of educational opportunity," central to our nation's ethic of democracy. Limiting the expanded opportunities of technology to groups with greater educational and financial resources would be unethical--and in the future, perhaps even unconstitutional, It is conceivable that within the next decade, parents might sue their school board for denying their children's rights to computers and the learning resources of the Internet.

Recognizing the importance of ensuring equitable access to computer technology, issues of the "digital divide"--and indeed the term itself--rapidly became part of our national agenda in 1999. Equitable use of computer technology was highlighted in January 2000 when President Bill Clinton included it in his State of the Union Address, and the topic has continued to be discussed throughout this election year.

Public debate must move beyond issues of simply providing children access to a computer at school or at home, however. As discussed in the article by Becker in this journal issue, because computer technology is constantly improving, [1] more refined measures of equitable access should include the power of the computer, the child-to-computer ratio, and the speed of Internet connectivity. Children with high-speed Internet lines and CD-ROM players have superior access to technology compared with children working with 28K modems and floppy disks.

In addition to the physical factors of the "boxes and wires" that provide technical access, discussions of equity should also include the psychological factors of a child's inner attitudes, motivation, and interest in computers. [2] Consider, for example, two teens who live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, and have similar family, backgrounds and socioeconomic status. One uses a community technology center to design Web sites for local businesses. Another has never stepped into this center. What accounts for the difference? Education is critical to providing greater "inner equity," to lighting the fire within children who view technology as an important and enjoyable way of learning and communicating.

Six Steps to Crossing the Digital Divide

Ensuring equitable use of computers by children requires a coordinated national approach that provides not only pervasive access to the technology, but also appealing content and compelling role models. The following six steps address both the machines and the motivation needed to, encourage greater numbers of young people to cross the digital divide,

1. Strengthen National, State, and Local Leadership

Leaders in government, business, and education already are linking our highest education priorities to closing the digital divide. [3] These groups include elected officials, from the President and members of Congress to governors and state legislators; community-based organizations such as the National Urban League; corporations such as AOL Time Warner and Gateway Computer; and foundations such as the Gates Learning Foundation and the Benton Foundation. …

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