When local educators, parents, and policy makers are actively engaged in addressing compelling school community issues such as the digital divide between diverse and income challenged students’ home access to Internet and computers, they often are so focused on a specific to their district or school population specific needs that they lose sight of the how their local needs reflect national concerns. In a globally connected and synergistic world of education, jobs and high speed digital enterprises, it is important to examine the forest of solutions and conversations as opposed to the single school metaphoric tree of issues.
Recently, Lonnie Shekhtman in the Christian Science Monitor http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/new-economy/2017/0306/How-Chattanooga-aims-to-cut-poverty-with-auperfast-internet?cmpid=gigya-mail) focused on how the city of Chattanooga Tennessee was finding itself a city divided not by race or social equity , but rather by digital high speed haves and industry start ups that were booming versus students in public school settings who had no Internet at home or even worse limited outmoded computers at home . These bright and deserving students were mainly from families whose income fell into the bottom twenty percent of incomes. In addition, they were from African American families and Hispanic families. The owners of the upscale start-ups in the neighborhoods of Chattanooga where the start-ups were located were desirous of employing and mentoring a workforce from the city. Yet how could these underfunded and overburdened public schools prepare students who were from the get go digitally as well as economically disadvantaged to bridge that immense divide given minimal personalized desktop or expensive laptop options for these students?
Kerri Randolph who was brought in to oversee innovative and economically viable solutions to this school technology and PARCC job preparation challenge, realized that using Chrome books offered a highly credible, digital workplace transferrable, technology device option. Currently growing numbers of Chattanooga students and caretakers with limited access to technology at home, outmoded computers and no Internet, sit in their schools hunched over personalized Chromebooks exploring Google job training and other self paced video and audio learning experiences. The Chromebooks allow for Spanish language options on video, audio and productivity levels. Even better, the Chromebooks join these families whose income falls in the lower 20 percent of city incomes to have a degree of shared device connected family literacy and fluency parallel to those familes whose income falls in the top fifth of city incomes.
Will widespread Chromebook purchases alone for schools with populations that include families whose income falls in the lowest 20 percent of city incomes bridge the digital divide experienced by diverse students from economically, linguistically and socially challenged families? Of course, not. But this easily accessible and user friendly with no barrier for language, special needs or extensive tutorials for immediate exploration, will certainly serve as cyber basic beam bridge to allow easy crossing over to full 21st century necessary digital employment, entrepreneurial and civic learning skills. Introduction of personal Chromebooks for students on the lower end of the digital divide and their families can be the first needed small step in leveling/bridging that divide. Neil Armstrong took it for American space exploration, Chromebook digitally challenged classroom and family users can take this first skills flag planting step in their classrooms.