Technological changes have caused disruption and transformation on a massive scale. Even something as innocent looking as the iPad or the iPhone have made a bold impact in the way people work, live and play. The problem with the march of technology is that a lot of people are getting left behind, causing a digital divide. This is not only true of developing countries but also true of long-developed industrial countries.
Niall Dunne, the Chief Sustainability Officer of the BT Group Plc., made a bold proposition in a recent weforum.org article – leveraging technology to bridge the widening “digital” gap in society. He explained that computers and other electronic devices have gotten faster, internet speeds are reaching highs of 23% speed increments on a yearly basis, and the price of technology in general continues to fall. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of computers has declined by 99.9% compared to January 1980 prices. Software prices have also decreased by almost the same percentage since 1980.
Amidst all these changes, there is now a growing group of people who are neither “blue collar” nor “white collar” workers. Dunne calls them the “no collar digital natives”. They have taken advantage of their grasp of technology and their ease of access to forge careers which did not exist as late as ten or five years ago.
Through all the rapid development, the real issue is that there are large swaths of the earth’s population who have not been able to keep up due to various reasons, including poverty, lack of infrastructure, as well as different priorities. The benefits of internet access are not being enjoyed by everyone. This is a concern because of the divide being created between those who are connected, and those who are not.
According to the weforum.org article on the digital divide highlights that “access to the internet is essential, but access is nothing without skills and empowerment”. According to the JRF (Joseph Rowntree Foundation), around 5 million adults do not have basic numeracy, reading and writing skills, and “a further 12.6 million adults lack basic digital skills” and this is in the UK, one of the most developed countries in the world.
“access to the internet is essential, but access is nothing without skills and empowerment”
It is not that the brakes should be put on progress, rather, equal opportunity and access should be addressed in order for the disconnected to catch up. The same technology which has fueled growth and change, and has pushed the arrival of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, can be used to bridge the divide. With creative use of technology, countries and people who do not have fast internet connection or have no internet connection at all, can be given the chance to join the revolution.
One way to do this is through the classroom. By empowering learners with the use of internet tools, computers, tablets and other devices to access the internet, the youth would be in a better position to thrive in the next wave of progress. In addition, new methods of studying and learning, and less of exam-focused instruction would enable more creativity to harness these tools for the future. This bold idea is inclusive in scope and can be replicated in other cultures with less internet infrastructure.