Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Children Falling into the Digital Divide

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Children Falling into the Digital Divide

Article excerpt

"Without the collaboration of governments, international organizations, social movements and the private sector, the Internet is as likely to deepen the gulf between rich and poor as to bridge it."

For the first time in history, half the world's population is under the age of 20. Nearly one billion children have been born in the 1990s alone. As of June 2000, population experts estimate that nearly 523 million people are living in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 269 million of them are under 24 years of age. Of the regions' total population, children make up 51 percent--one out of every two people in the region is a child or a youth aged 24 and under. In countries including Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua, children and youth make up 60 percent or more of the population. (1) The vast majority of these children and youth will grow up during a time of social, economic, technological and political changes that will affect them profoundly. Such changes and the growth in the number of children will have far-reaching implications for governments, economies, communities and the environment. The future of the world has never been so heavily dependent on a single generation.

As we advance into the 21st century, extraordinary advances have been made to improve the lives of children. There has been more progress in the 20th century related to the health and wellbeing of children than there was in all the previous centuries combined. Deadly childhood diseases like polio have been virtually wiped out. Almost every indicator of health, wealth, safety, nutrition, environmental quality and social conditions indicates rapid improvement over the past century. Among the most significant trends are increased life expectancy, falling infant mortality rates, and a large decrease in the incidence of major killer diseases including tuberculosis, typhoid and pneumonia. (2)

Yet despite powerful progress, challenges persist and new ones emerge as we enter the 21st century--both in the developing and developed worlds. At the dawn of the new millennium, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) found that worldwide, 100 million children are still living or working on the streets. Infant mortality remains a serious problem: 8 percent of infants do not live to see their fifth birthday. Each day, 30,000 children die from communicable diseases. And 2.8 billion of the world's 6 billion people live on less than $2 per day--1.2 billion live on less than $1 per day. (3) Economic, geographic and social barriers limit millions of youth from developing their individual potential. As a result, increased numbers of youth are living on the streets, vulnerable to crime and drugs and without hope for a healthy future.

While childhood poverty, sickness and despair may still frequently prevail, technological advancement can provide new opportunities for children in education and employment. A technologically savvy youth is important not only in terms of education, but also in terms of playing an important role in employment and in a country's development. The bridging of the digital divide is critical to the circumvention of the multifarious problems afflicting children around the world. Educators across the United States spent nearly $6 billion in 2000 building a technologically equipped educational system. The numbers show the results and the numbers show the results. In the US, there is slightly more than one computer for every five students. The ratio of students to an internet-connected computer is almost as good, about eight to one. Notwithstanding such technologically advanced schools, there is still much to do. Teachers in the US, for example, must be trained to make better use of technology in the classroom. Yet computer access and use in US classrooms is incredibly advanced when compared to the developing world. In most countries, the problem begins with just being able to obtain computers.

Without an educated body of youth prepared to meet the global labor force's needs, a country is relegated to painfully slow progress as more productive and well-paying jobs are sent elsewhere. …

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