How Californians Might be Closing the Digital Divide

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For those who can't afford or don't have access to computers, can smart phones serve as substitutes?

The question of whether mobile devices can close the digital divide between the haves and have-nots came up again yesterday with the release of a report by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Among many other findings, the report concluded that "although Latinos are the group least likely to have a computer or Internet access at home, Latinos who use their cell phones to go online are twice as likely as whites (40% to 21%) to say that they mostly access the Internet this way."

Overall, why are Californians going online? All the reasons you might imagine: checking the latest news, using social network sites, buying stuff.

What might be surprising is that 45 percent say they're going online to "pursue educational purposes."


But when asked, "Do you ever use your cell phone to go online for educational purposes, such as online training or for taking a class?" 91 percent said no.

Granted, the report targets adults, not kids. Still, I wonder how many kids would answer yes.

Furthermore, what kind of learning is best suited for mobile devices, and what's best for computers? I asked Mimi Ito, a cultural anthropologist who studies new media use in young people, to offer her perspective.

In the meantime, some more interesting stats to consider from the CCIP report, in regards to technology use in schools, quoted here:

  • There is a consensus about teaching computer and Internet skills in public school: an overwhelming majority of adults say it is very important (76%) or somewhat important (18%), and across political parties, demographic groups, and regions strong majorities hold this view.
  • 63% of these parents report visiting their child’s school website often or sometimes (61% in 2009, 56% in 2008). Parents earning $80,000 or more (89%) are twice as likely as parents earning under $40,000 (44%) to visit their child’s school website. Among those who do not visit their child’s school website, 63 percent say the school does have a website as far as they know.
  • 32% of parents say they receive their child’s homework assignments via the Internet or email (34% in 2009, 28% in 2008). Among those who do not receive their child’s assignments via the Internet or email, 71 percent say their child’s teachers do not send assignments this way as far as they know.

Read more about the report here on the PPIC site.

And listen to The California Report's story about how mobile phones might influence the digital divide.