The "digital divide" - a term that refers to the gaps in access to information and communication technology (ICT) - threatens the ICT "have-nots", whether individuals, groups or entire countries. Education and learning lie at the heart of these issues and their solutions. The gaps that define the "learning digital divide" are thus as important as the more obvious gaps in access to the technology itself.
The articles listed below build on the papers and discussions of the Fifth NCAL/OECD Roundtable, The Lifelong Learning and New Technologies Gap: Reaching the Disadvantaged, held at the U.S. National Center of Adult Literacy (NCAL), University of Pennsylvania, 8-10 December 1999. As the forward to the OECD's Schooling for Tomorrow publication, Learning to Bridge the Digital Divide, 2000, states:
As we enter the 21st century, the emerging features of the “New Economy” can be seen everywhere. At the heart of these changes are the innovations made possible by Information and Communication Technology (ICT), which are transforming the ways in which economies, and the people within them, are working. ICT has become one of the main drivers of growth, but economic growth, important as it is, must be promoted in tandem with social and democratic objectives, especially in tackling exclusion. The risk for some of being disconnected through being unable to participate in the modern economy is now acute, with participation conditional to a large extent on accessing ICT with confidence and competence. This is increasingly the condition for involvement in the decision-making and community activities that also define participation in society.
The importance of ICT to both economic and social development explains the priority of bridging what has come to be known as the “digital divide”. This is, in fact, a whole series of interlocking “divides” - the gaps that separate segments of society as well as whole nations into those who are able to take advantage of the new ICT opportunities and those who are not.
People, education and learning lie at the heart of these issues and their solutions. The machines and sophisticated ICT equipment are useless without the competence to exploit them. Nurturing this competence is in part the job of schools and colleges, where the foundations of lifelong learning and “technological literacy” are laid. In part, it is dependent on the learning that takes place throughout life in homes, communities, and workplaces. Education and learning are now the lifeblood of our 21st century knowledge societies, and ICT has become integral to them. The gaps that define the “learning digital divide” become as important as the more obvious gaps in access to the technology itself.