Bridging the Digital Divide

By Harrell, Tim | Policy & Practice, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Bridging the Digital Divide


Harrell, Tim, Policy & Practice


Students deserve the opportunity to enter the information age equipped with the tools necessary to meet 21st century challenges. But not all families can afford computers and Internet service.

In Austin, Texas, Computers for Learning (http://www.computers-for-learning.org) has developed a program to provide computers and Internet access to economically disadvantaged students through partnerships with businesses, community organizations, government, and schools. Computers for Learning, founded in December 2000, is a non-profit organization that receives computers donated from businesses, government, and individuals, uses volunteers and staff to get the computers reconditioned, then places the computers in the homes of economically disadvantaged students, along with donated dial-up Internet services. Donated funds pay for telephone service to access the dial-up Internet accounts for families who are not able to afford telephone service.

Since February 2001, more than 1,300 Texas students have received computers and Internet service through Computers for Learning, an estimated value of over $600,000.

Creative Partnerships

As chairman of the board of the Texas Department of Human Services, David Herndon saw first hand the positive effect of education on poverty and the need for public assistance. Computer technology offered a way to enhance education, and the challenge was to develop a program to ensure that all students had computers and Internet access at home. In December 2000, Herndon created the nonprofit organization Computers for Learning to develop partnerships with businesses and government for donations of computers, funds, and other resources, with the intent of creating a model that could expand across the state.

Businesses have responded enthusiastically to the opportunity for their discarded computers to enhance the education of economically disadvantaged students. Businesses also see their discarded computers will continue to be used in a productive way and not become part of the growing burden for landfills. Currently, Computers for Learning has partnerships with more than 50 businesses in the Austin and San Marcos areas for computer donations, volunteers, and donations of funds.

Computers for Learning has also developed partnerships with government organizations. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services provides staff resources, warehouse space, and administrative services. Government organizations at the city, state, and federal levels provide support through donations of computer parts, grants, and computers. …

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