What it means to live in a digitally connected world: A tale of two teenagers – LSB

Garima
9 Min Read


Meet Lara. He is fourteen years old. His phone alarm wakes him up with the melody of his favorite song by Olivia Rodrigo. After hitting a few snoozes, she jumps out of bed and checks TikTok and Insta to see what’s trending before getting ready for school. At the breakfast table, he looks at the day’s calendar. wow! He barely submitted an essay he had to pass in English class. It was great to have Ms. Bada critique their essays prepared by ChatGPT. This is more interesting than writing about Homer Odyssey. Coach Gonzalez texted the dance team to bring their new uniforms to practice this afternoon. After classes, he checks an online fanart message board. He’s been sharing his art for the past few years and getting paid gigs to paint some of his favorite characters. Lara doesn’t know what to do without her phone; everything is at his fingertips. How do people live without it?!

Meet Maria. He is also fourteen years old. He starts the day by checking on his two younger brothers. He helps his grandparents, with whom he has lived since childhood, and prepares breakfast for them. He helps feed some of their cattle before going to school. It takes about half an hour to walk. He did his best to do his homework last night, but it’s harder to work during the fall semester when the sun goes down early and he only gets home from school in the evening. Maria’s home has intermittent electricity and evenings are difficult for her as she tries to get things done with limited sunlight. Since the pandemic, his school has become more involved with technology and computers, which is good for him at school, but what does that mean for him when school is out? He cannot be at school all day; he should be around to help his family at home. With no computer at home, erratic electricity, and a smartphone he shares with his family, using the phone to check assignments some days is a struggle. He is really into manga art and was gifted a crafting board by one of his favorite teachers who encouraged his passion. Maria is looking for a means to further develop her artistic skills, but she doesn’t know what’s out there.

Lara and Maria are in their first year of high school. Both have visions of becoming artists. Both are looking for ways to improve their skills. Both are teenage girls. Digital access creates two very different lives and opportunities for each student. For many of us, when we read their stories, we think they live in separate worlds. The reality is that these two stories come from conversations and interviews with educators, caregivers, and students across the United States from the Southwest to the East Coast, with statistics to back up these personal stories.


Endless Mini Three students exploring Endless OS installed in Mexico

How can we change the story?

The digital divide is not merely anecdotal, but a widespread problem affecting countless learners. Bridging this gap is a complex task that requires comprehensive strategies. In 2021, the Biden Administration established the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) and the Digital Assets Act (DEA) to address the widening digital divide caused by the Covid pandemic. With more than $48 billion earmarked for internet connectivity and infrastructure needs in all 50 states and territories, state governments have been tasked with creating local and regional task forces to develop a five-year plan to close the gaps in hopes of reaching 5 million cutoff homes. At the June 2022 Pew Broadband Summit in Cleveland, Ohio, local leaders in Cleveland spoke about the connection effort that began in 2000 as questions about the reality of the digital divide arose. Alan Davidson, the assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and head of the NTIA, acknowledged that the goal of providing broadband to all Americans will take more than six to 10 years, about five years longer than the project plan developed by state governments. . So what does all this mean for learners like Maria? How can we ensure that Maria and others like her don’t have to wait ten years to engage in the digital world?

Our engagement with students digitally must be fair. Digital equity thinks beyond mainstream solutions and meets learners and their communities where they are, providing support and solutions that complement their existing realities. For example, for a teenager like Maria, being able to do homework at home requires two things: access to a device at home, and access to a device that contains all the learning resources and apps she needs to do her activities without needing it. consistent and reliable internet connection. To address the first requirement, access to free or affordable devices is needed. Organizations like Digitunity, a network of computer repairers across the country, and Endless Laptop, an affordable laptop program by the Endless OS Foundation, are making sure families can buy their first home laptop without the financial burden. With the second requirement, the right device is essential. Device apps and content are key to building advanced digital skills. Unfortunately, these resources are usually not free and are usually found online. The Open Source community noticed this dissonance and created open access programs like LibreOffice, Blender, and GIMP to democratize access. The Endless OS Foundation, along with open source nonprofits such as Kiwix and Learning Equality, has capitalized on this response by developing an operating system that supports all of these open tools, along with a curated library of K-12 learning resources. or without internet.


A village buys: Enabling digital access requires an ecosystem approach. It takes federal, state and local government funding and policy to help design the needle we move, but the colloquial “third sector” is providing the push forward. Philanthropy, in partnership with non-profit organizations, is essential to ensure digital access. Thinking of philanthropic giving as a community investment by taking a holistic approach to digital equality is what organizations like Connect Humanity are doing not just to move the needle, but to redesign a tool that is stronger and more sustainable than the needle. The Information Equality Initiative (IEI) is looking at digital access through a tried-and-true method, the broadcast television signal, thereby partnering with entities we may not have previously recognized as players in the ecosystem. As multiple organizations collaborate to create collective partnerships, it is imperative that all stakeholders are actively engaged in discussions to make universal digital access a reality.

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