How can we achieve universal access and take the other steps necessary to narrow the digital divide? The new media, the new economy, and the new generation are causing every institution to rethink itself and every person to re-evaluate their values and behaviour.
Access in Schools is Not Enough
Wiring the schools and populating them with computers is necessary but not enough. In order to ensure equal opportunity to share in the digital revolution, students must be provided with appropriate software and services. They need motivation to learn. They need the education system redesigned and teachers who have been retrained and reoriented. Innovative technologies cannot make up for educational professionals who lack innovative methods and merely replicate learning models that don't work.
How can we tackle the digital divide? By creating community computing networks, or FreeNets. They provide Internet access to those who can not afford it free of charge, and provide computers in public spaces such as libraries or laundromats from which users can access the Internet.
According to Community Technology Centers' Network (CTCNet) there are over 150 non-profit community computing centres operating in the U.S. The vast majority of such centres are open four hours a day with a half dozen computers in neighbourhood community centres and Boys' and Girls' Clubs. Others are free-standing centres like Plugged-In, with enough space and staff to provide access to dozens of computers for 12 hours each day.
Whatever the size of the operation, the experiences of community computing centres show the potential that would be wasted if kids in low-income communities were denied access to communications technology. Their success has been so inspiring that the organization 2B1 was founded with the mision of putting computers in the hands of all children all over the world.
In addition to access to technology, access to experts is a necessary component of any program's success Compumentor is a California-based organization that matches industry professionals with community computer centres who need their advice.