Why Focusing on Computer Literacy Is Key to Closing the Digital Divide
By Rhys Jane
The pandemic opened up many societal problems, and one of the most glaring ones is the digital divide. It limits earning, learning, and communication opportunities for those without access to the internet. Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Americans in each income tier who have smartphones and home broadband has not significantly changed – despite the pandemic increasing the need for more digital resources and access. They also highlighted how people with lower incomes are more likely to experience this divide since they don’t have the financial capacity to purchase tech products.
Those without access to digital resources are being left behind. The need to address this gap is needed now more than ever as digitization is becoming a lifeline that provides opportunities for all citizens. But before talking about how people can close the digital divide, there is a need to discuss and explore what exactly the digital divide is.
Understanding the Digital Divide
The digital divide refers to the gap between populations that have access to modern technology and
those that don’t. The term also includes the technical and financial ability to utilize the technology available. Moreover, it also encompasses the access, or the lack thereof, to the internet. This divide often exists between developing and developed countries. However, the urban-rural gap is usually what contributes to the digital divide.
A professor from the University of Florida revisited the negative correlation between rurality and internet speed and found that this plays a part in the widening digital divide. This is supported by further studies from other institutions, with Maryville University citing digital divides, like geographical restrictions and the lack of physical access to technology, as factors that contribute to the problem. It's further explained that areas that lack infrastructure and have low economic development can’t support high-speed internet connections in the first place. In addition, low literacy levels are said to contribute to the divide since those with lower levels of education are less likely to access the internet and reap its benefits. The lack of access to technology also plays a key part because people who don’t have computers are disadvantaged in terms of developing the skills needed to use digital devices.
Why Is Computer Literacy Important in Closing This Divide?
Computer literacy is the understanding of the basic processes of computers and technology, and how people can utilize these processes. Having basic computer skills and knowledge of how technology works can help industries close the digital divide and create more opportunities for a diverse workforce.
Computer literacy enriches people’s lives and creates a positive impact on their day-to-day lives. For instance, improving one’s technological skills can help people access information online about their health, education, and work. Having technological skills for creating spreadsheets, presentations, and basic word files can instantly lower technological constraints and improve people’s livelihoods.
To do this, government policies must be implemented to advocate the importance of computer literacy. Having information centers and self-developing programs, like the digital literacy initiatives launched by the LINCS Learner Center, can help people gain the skills they need to use the technology. Training in the form of webinars, reading materials, and learning platforms will also be instrumental in bridging the digital divide. As we discussed in our blog post on ‘Season of Learning’, one of the pillars of IDEA is equity – and this means that we want innovative training to be accessible for everyone to have the chance to get the learning experience they deserve. To support this, infrastructures must be built so that people can have access to the internet wherever they are.
People can bridge the digital divide through computer literacy. To do this, there must be equal access to technology and the internet for everyone. People should also be able to acquire knowledge of how technology works in training programs so that they can mitigate technological constraints and rise above digital illiteracy.
Written by Rhys Jane
Exclusively submitted to ideaillinois.org