Addressing the digital divide

5th May 2006 at 01:00
The digital divide remains a big issue in education - that was the message at the e-Learning Foundation's spring conference, held in Bristol.

"Learning Technologies - overcoming the digital divide", also celebrated the fifth anniversary of the launch of the e-Learning Foundation, founded to tackle the digital divide in education. Chief executive Valerie Thompson (pictured below), said, "There's still a great inequality in education.

Some 1.4 million schoolchildren don't have a computer at home and 2.5 million don't have an internet connection - that's 30 per cent of children.

And this at a time when more and more resources are going online."

Among those taking part in the conference were David Whyley, headteacher and ICT consultant at Wolverhampton LEA. Whyley described how an innovative project involving 15 schools and 1,000 pupils using personal digital assistants (PDAs) was helping to connect the local community and increase access to ICT. Julian Wright is project manager for Axcess, a community-wide learning programme through which Paulsgrove Primary School has opened up ICT access to many people. The project includes equipping children with PDAs that can be used both at home and in school.

VAnother speaker was Angela McFarlane, professor at Bristol University's graduate school of education, who talked about research: "When we talk about ICT and access, we need to ask broader questions, such as 'How does access work?', and 'What do we want to do with it?'"

"What's frightening is the level of ignorance there is about the digital divide and how it can be tackled," said Valerie Thompson, "it's not just about putting more resources into the problem; it's also about changing the mind set. We estimate that there are almost half a million pieces of portable ICT equipment in schools, which could be used to help bridge that divide, but sadly, relatively few school computers are being used for this purpose."

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