The Digital Divide: Just having the technology doesn’t help

In my site, the collegio (secondary school) has a computer lab with about 12 machines and internet connections.  The computer lab is usually locked. The few times I’ve seen it open, it was only a few professors and no students. The collegio also has a multi media project to hook up to the computers.  It’s rarely in use.

One thing we thought developing countries were lacking was capital –economic, human, and technological.  Economic being money, human being knowledge and technological being everything from tractors to MRI machines. But it’s not enough to just have one the three.  Money doesn’t do anything on it’s own.  And you can have all the doctors and scientists you want, but if they don’t have labs and hospitals then their effectiveness is limited and constrained. And you can have armies of tractors, but if you don’t have the human capital to operate them (or the financial capital to maintain them) then all you have is a big piece of metal sitting around. That’s what’s happening a lot throughout Peru (at the least).

While the technology exists, many don’t know how to use it properly.  Kids go to the internet cafes to play Counter-Strike and Grand Theft Auto.  Adults use messenger and maybe a little bit of Google for basic searches.  Everyone types with their fingers.  Nobody really knows how to use Microsoft Word or Excel beyond the most basic functions.   I was lucky enough to have computer classes during my public school stint – typing, using Microsoft Office, Google searching for academic stuff, etc.  I’m comfortable doing everything electronically, I basically grew up with it.

However, most of the computers around here are ‘new’.  They’re recently introduced but not necessarily high quality. But most people are just learning how to adapt to them.  The local health network requires mountains of reports and statistic reporting – all done through Excel. Presentations in Power Point. And what happens? All the work in Excel takes longer than thought because of the unfamiliarity with data entry.  Power Point presentations are classic cases of what not to do with power point – overloaded with data and text.  Technology becomes a hassle and a slow down.

When I asked the director of the school why the computer lab wasn’t in use, he told me it was because nobody really wanted to use it.  Teachers didn’t know how to incorporate the computers or project into their lessons.  The director was trying to get a teacher for computer classes, but is still waiting.  All that’s missing is a little training.  Not too much, just enough to get things moving and get people comfortable.  But until then, the kids go on playing GTA instead of doing cool things like reading the Economist like I do. 


Steph said...

Great example to highlight that access is a more complicated issue than just having technology available to you. I think we tend to take the more invisible aspects of access for granted.

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