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Society and Community:
The Digital Divide
More on This Story:
Maine's Laptop Program

The phrase "Digital Divide" was in common use in the late 1990s — signifying the gulf in access to Internet delivery. A gulf, which many believe, has significant effects on education and job preparedness. While ratios of students to computers with Internet access have dropped significantly in just four years, statistics from the Bureau of Education Statistics still show that household income has a strong relationship to student use of computers.

In 2000, Maine Governor Angus King proposed a radical plan: He wanted to give every seventh and eighth grader in the state access to a laptop computer. Thus the The Maine Learning Technology Initiative was born. Approved by the State Legislature to begin in September 2002, this first-in-the-nation program provided Apple iBook computers to more than 30,000 middle school students and teachers.

When King proposed the program, Maine was experiencing a budget surplus — shortfalls soon began to threaten the program. Current Maine Governor Baldacci has taken on the laptop program's cause. Some legislators were wary about expanding the program at the same time the state was cutting programs like Medicaid, yet in 2004, Maine legislators reached another deal with Apple to expand the laptop program as a voluntary option. One-third of Maine high schools have signed on thus far.

Proponents of the laptop plan argue that the costs of not continuing or expanding it are too great for the students of Maine. Initially, the program was derided by teachers and school boards as a classroom distraction and a waste of money, but many critics have been converted. Independent studies by researchers at the University of Southern Maine showed that the improvements were greatest for children more at risk of failing, such as those in special education and from low-income families. A study by the Maine Education Policy Research Institute says the positive impact is being felt statewide. Both students and teachers also testified to its benefits before the state legislature. In addition the state Board of Education gave the expansion strong support and The Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education called the program "not an option, it is an imperative."

Taking a cue from Maine’s success, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Pennsylvania are launching similar programs. However, the Maine legislature has not made the program permanent. The state news service reported recently that the self-supporting endowment of state money set aside to pay for the computers and related teacher training was tapped to fill state budget shortfalls even as the program was being launched and is now empty. Governor Baldacci and the state Department of Education are currently exploring options, such as leasing computers cost-free for one year from Apple.

Below is a partial list of groups involved in bridging the digital divide. Also, use NOW's Resource Map to find out about technology programs for children and adults in your state.

BBC News— Information Rich, Information Poor: Bridging the digital divide
A comprehensive look at the growing divide between rich and poor nations. "More than 80% of people in the world have never heard a dial tone, let alone sent an email or downloaded information from the World Wide Web."

Center to Bridge the Digital Divide
A team of a dozen professionals with diverse backgrounds in economics, anthropology, education, leadership, information design, business management and other fields at Washington State University. The center works with schools, business and government in developing digital divide solutions.

Digital Divide Network
Project of The Center for Media & Community at EDC creates innovative educational models and promotes public policy toward the goal of strengthening education and economic development in technologically underserved communities around the world.

International Society for Technology in Education
ISTE is a nonprofit professional organization with a worldwide membership of leaders and potential leaders in educational technology.

Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994–2002
Results of an eight-year study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Among the findings: In fall 2002, 99 percent of public schools in the United States had access to the Internet. When NCES first started estimating Internet access in schools in 1994, 35 percent of public schools had access.

The National Education Technology Plan
Official U.S. Department of Education plan released in January of 2005. The executive summary reads:

Over the next decade, the United States will face ever increasing competition in the global economy. To an overwhelming extent, this competition will involve the mastery and application of new technologies in virtually every field of human endeavor. It will place particular emphasis on the need for heightened skills in mathematics and science. It is the responsibility of this nation’s educational enterprise – including policymakers – to help secure our economic future by ensuring that our young people are adequately prepared to meet these challenges. Today, they are not. This report explores why – and recommends steps to ensure that they will be.

Resources, expert interviews and demonstrations of new technology from the PBS broadcast.

Technology in Schools
A useful how-to guide for designing, implementing and evaluating school technology programs from the National Bureau of Educational Statistics' Technology in Schools Task Force.

Tool Kit for Bridging the Digital Divide in Your Community
Tool Kit from the U.S. Department of Education intended for community leaders, government staff, business leaders and grass roots volunteers. It offers some basic tips on how to bridge the digital divide through the development of a community project.

World Bank: Education and Technology
Data and information from World Bank programs designed to combat the digital divide around the world. A recent project included one to bridge the gender digital divide.

Additional sources: Additional sources: "State reaches accord with Apple to put laptops in high schools," AP, August 6 2004; "Maine Hopes to Expand Laptops to H.S.," Glenn Adams, AP, April 6. 2004; Eric Kelderman, Staff Writer,; "Report gives high grades for laptop program," February 11, 2004, AP;

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