[Here’s an older article that is still pertinent in today’s world, where access to technology, not speaking about the Pokeman Online or Ingress, is what helps to give students an edge in how education is done.]
I have an article elsewhere on Beelybox about more students using cell phones and those students being technically savvy. What about the students who have very limited access or no access to technology at all? What happens to them in this flattened world? Here are some points to consider and ideas that can be implemented.
I read reports about the huge numbers of teens and tweens who have their own cell phones (thanks to the plans for $9.95/month for additional phones/lines.) OK, that’s great, I’m OK with this if their parents are. But what about the families and kids who can’t afford technology: cell phones, a home computer with access to the Internet? Where does this leave us as a nation: a nation of technology haves and have-nots! Of course, this is nothing terribly new–the whole Digital Divide has been discussed over and over again without much of a resolution.
Families do have access to computers and the Internet at their local library branch or school library (that makes systems available for community use.) But you don’t learn and be competent on a computer if you don’t have one available at home. You don’t gain enough skills to increase your potential for getting a better job unless you have a computer you can use and learn on every day.
How about schools releasing their old, used computers that are still viable (for word-processing, surfing the Internet, using email) instead of sending them to the warehouse for auction. What family will wait for the annual auction and have enough knowledge about what they’d be getting with a school cast-off? I think the school technology staff should be able to remove systems from Inventory and make them available to families identified from the free-lunch records. These are families who are known to have limited income and can be contacted to see if they could benefit from a well-used but functional system.
Of course, school districts can’t release older systems with intact licensed operating systems (read Microsoft Windows) and licensed productivity software (read Microsoft Office). That should never be a deal-stopper. The tech at each school could invite technology class students to help securely wipe the hard drives of the cast-off systems and install/setup a well-rounded Linux distribution that has low hardware requirements (Damn Small Linux is a great option as is Slackware Linux, others are described here.) The student who would be receiving the the old system could help in this work as payment for the system.
The tech students could also set up and maintain a tech support network through the school’s web site with links to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) via a wiki, discussion/help forums via a phpBB bulletin board system. They could even use the support structure to do house calls to these families and earn community service recognition for their resume/CV.
The foreign language department could involve students to translate the technology support info for non-English speaking families. Tucson has a large Spanish-speaking population and the tech students could work with the Spanish language class students to translate the wiki pages, the FAQs, and other pertinent info. Another opportunity for students to earn community service hours.
I have dozens of these older, viable systems sitting around because they’ve been replaced with a slightly newer system capable of running Windows XP. Isn’t this how we look out and take care of all the members of our communities? We can also take care of the community of current PC users who are being abandoned by Microsoft’s ending support for Windows 98 and the joke that is Windows ME. These folks may not be able to replace their older PCs, if they could they would have done so with systems that could run Windows XP. So, Linux is starting to look very good for these abandoned users. What are we waiting for?