In 2009, Pew Research Center – Internet and American Life Project, released a study titled, The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future. 895 technology stakeholders and critics participated in the online, opt-in survey. Pew found 72% of the total sample agrees that by 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, businesses, non-profits, and other mainstream institutions.
These predictions are optimistic, and must be viewed alongside their risks and challenges. Jim Witte, director, Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, told Pew:
Social, political and economic organizations will become increasingly responsive. But the target of that responsiveness will be the online citizenry. Increasing commercialization and intellectualization of content and tools will deepen the class-based digital divide. In many forums – social and economic as well as political – public opinion expressed through technology will have a louder voice. As democratic as this sounds, it may also leave those who are not online with no voice whatsoever (Anderson).
Lack of access to media production tools, the Internet, and an education that emphasizes critical thinking skills will spell disaster for people all around the world if not addressed. This fact has been widely acknowledged by the United States Department of Education. In 2003 they released a study called Benefits of Technology Use. According to the study,
"In 1992, the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills focused the nations attention on the fact that more than half of all high school students leave school without the problem-solving and reasoning skills necessary to find and advance in a good job. Fortunately, teachers have found that interactive educational technology is an invaluable ally in moving all students beyond the basic skills. Access to computer-generated simulations, videodiscs, the Internet, and software on CD-ROM offers students experiences available nowhere else--experiences students need for the 21st Century. In fact, students with extensive access to technology learn how to organize complex information, recognize patterns, draw inferences, and communicate findings. Not surprisingly, they exhibit superior organizational and problem solving skills as compared to students in more traditional high school programs." http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/os/technology/plan/national/benefits.html
Knowing this highlights the importance of helping educators and parents get the training they need to seamlessly integrate technology use in the classroom, and at home, without students having to take a specialized media literacy class (although that would be ideal).
This reality is not only for First World citizens; people all over the globe are beginning to benefit from 21st Century tools and education. Efforts are currently underway to inexpensive and easily accessible tools and technology can be integrated into marginalized and under represented groups of people in America and abroad.
One such effort is taking place in Africa. The Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI), the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) and CyberSmart! Africa, an education NGO that provides teacher training and related ICT interventions designed to narrow the learning divide between Africa and the developed world, are presently integrating technology in schools in Africa to help narrow the digital divide. According to a blog written by Susan Blaustein for the Earth Institute at Columbia University:
MCI, MVP and CyberSmart! Africa have partnered in both Louga, Senegal, and in the nearby rural community of Leona, to provide teacher training and technology solutions that have the promise to be inexpensively and easily replicated in all schools – requiring minimal, if any, infrastructure investment. CyberSmart! Introduced an individualized 21st century learning tool – the Livescribe Pulse Smartpen. This SmartPen represents an eye opening learning intervention in a world where technology integration has always been associated with installing expensive school computer labs, and learning ICT skills, which often have little bearing on everyday teaching and learning activities.
The SmartPen records and links audio to what is written in a special ‘dot paper’ notebook. Then, after touching the pen tip to whatever was written, the linked audio plays back though the pen’s speaker or plug-in earphones. The power of the rechargeable SmartPen lies in its ability to simultaneously combine four ways of learning – reading, writing, speaking and listening (Blaustein).
According to the article, all aspects of this program correlate to 21st-century teaching and learning standards adopted by UNESCO and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
The ripple effect of this initiative taking place in Africa is tremendous. The variety of inimitable, low-cost Internet Computer Technology tools – including the SmartPen – can be molded to suit specific needs of underprivileged communities. Success can be replicated, as teachers are better able to collaborate and share information with each other globally. The cost of the technology is getting cheaper and access to it is growing more available (Blaustein).
There are of course many challenges ahead, but the 21st Century holds limitless opportunity for marginalized and oppressed groups of people to engage more fully in the global marketplace of ideas and commerce.
Anderson, Jana. "The Impact of the Internet on Institutions in the Future | Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project." Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Pew Research Center, 31 Mar. 2010. Web. 26 Sept. 2010. .
Blaustein, Susan. "Fostering 21st Century Learning in Sub-Saharan Africa." Weblog post. Stsate of the Planet: Blogs from The Earth Institute. The Earth Institute at Columbia University, 07 July 2010. Web. 24 Sept. 2010. .
"Archived: National Educational Technology." U.S. Department of Education. 23 Sept. 2003. Web. 26 Sept. 2010.