In 2007, Sixty Minutes aired a segment entitled, “What if every child had a laptop?” The segment featured a professor at MIT, Nicholas Negroponte, who founded a non-profit organization called “One Laptop Per Child.” Negroponte assembled a team of tech-savvy engineers to design low-cost computers specifically for poor children and now works to fulfill the organization’s mission of “empower[ing] the world’s poorest children through education.”
Negroponte stated that his interest sparked when he traveled to a remote underprivileged village in Cambodia called Reaksmy. He built a school there and provided laptops for every single child, giving children who had never even seen a computer the opportunity to cross the digital divide. Surprisingly, Negroponte stated, “The first English word of every child in that village was Google!” He went on to say that the children are given the opportunity to take laptops home and teach their families how to use the device.
Powerful stories like Negroponte’s help us realize just how important a computer can be to a child. Most American school curriculums, and indeed those in most developed countries, require students to have at least some knowledge of basic computer skills. Now, there are interactive online learning centers for children that are tailored to address each individual child’s learning needs.
Today, every child should have exposure to a computer, if not at home, then at least at school or the local library. Early exposure gives them the opportunity to learn how to communicate in the virtual world, how to properly search for information, and how to critically analyze and distinguish real, valuable information from biased, flawed information. With an Internet connection, children can use their imaginations to become 21st century innovators, which is increasingly important in a world where America is falling behind. The opportunities for learning and the amount of knowledge available on the Internet are practically limitless. By preventing a child from using the Internet, adults deprive them of access to the world’s largest source of information.
Parents can be hesitant about allowing their children to access the Internet. It is well-known that dangers can lurk at every corner. But remember that supervision is key. With proper monitoring and safeguards, children are at a significant advantage when they have access. The American Psychological Association released a study that found that children with access to the Internet at home had higher grade point averages and reading test scores within six to sixteen months.
A child who is not exposed to computers at an early age may struggle when first starting school because teachers are incorporating computer usage within their lessons. The average age at which a child first uses a computer to go online is between five and six years old.
Unfortunately, many households cannot afford home access, and overworked parents are too busy to sit with their children in a library to teach them to use the Internet, if the parents realize the value of such skills at all. These children will begin their elementary school education already at a significant disadvantage from their peers.
Efforts like the MMTC and One Economy Campaign are currently underway to help raise awareness about the digital divide and the importance of access at home and within the community. We are optimistic that such efforts will prove fruitful, and that disadvantaged children will not get left behind in the increasingly digital world.
Lucette Pierre-Louis is an Attorney and graduate from FAMU College of Law who strives to serve the public good and represent the less fortunate. In law school, Lucette earned the title of Senior Editor of the Southern Region Black Law Journal and has authored articles ranging from Abortion to Rape in Third World Countries.