With an increasing number of families getting online, the conversation around the digital divide is shifting from one about putting technology in people’s hands to one about making sure they know how to harness its power.
Today’s divide is more about quality than quantity – what people are doing while they’re online. A recent New York Times article on the issue cited two important statistics: Children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families, and they spend 11.5 hours each day exposed to media from a variety of sources, including television, computer and other gadgets.
The number is even more striking for Hispanic youth, who spend 13 hours per day consuming media, compared with less than 8.5 hours per day for white youth. And most of this time is spent on entertainment – not education or meaningful content creation.
Recently, the National Center for Family Literacy partnered with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the National Council of La Raza to convene the first Hispanic-Latino Families Digital Technologies Forum. The goal was to identify technology and digital media practices and initiatives that should be further studied and replicated to meet the unique educational needs of Hispanic families.
One in four American children lives in an immigrant household, and by 2020 one in three Americans will be of Hispanic descent. The pivotal question for all of us is: Will we arm the nation’s largest and fastest growing minority with the tools they need to thrive in a digital era? And how do we do so effectively?
Hispanics spend an average of five hours per day watching television, and internet usage among them is growing at a rate that is more than double the general population, according to a Nielsen statistics. Hispanic families also use smartphones at a higher rate – 60 percent have at least one smartphone, compared to 43 percent of non-Hispanics. Internet usage varies widely among the generations, which means parents are less likely to participate in online activities with their children and may be less likely to support their children’s use of it.
It makes sense, then, that the answers to our questions lie in a blend of traditional and new media. More research into identifying needs and best practices must be conducted, but several priorities emerged from the forum:
• Digital literacy is key to digital equity.
• Programming and content must be tailored for cultural and generational variations and to meet individual learners’ needs.
• Intergenerational participation is important to help parents understand the opportunities of technology and manage the threats.
• We must develop and demonstrate family approaches to learning through technology, and provide parents with tech solutions to meet their own learning needs.
Used effectively, technology leads to engagement for the entire family. It also can open educational doors and family experiences online and offline. But we must make it relevant to families. Only then will we bridge the digital divide.
Emily Kirkpatrick is vice president for the National Center for Family Literacy.
All statements and opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors, and not of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or NBC News.