How New Technologies are Bridging the Digital Divide

Kai Frazier
October 27, 2022

When our founder and CEO, Kai Frazier, was working as a history teacher outside of Washington, D.C., she witnessed first-hand how well her students consumed and retained information digitally. However, she didn't have the technology and resources she needed to implement her curriculum in a digital format. Unfortunately, this has been the case for school systems across the country for decades, creating a growing digital divide. Since that realization, Frazier has been one of many dedicated to filling the learning gap and bridging the digital divide for students everywhere. 

Technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. It enables us to communicate, collaborate, and learn more efficiently than ever. It also allows us to connect with others worldwide and access information about topics that interest us most. However, there are still millions of people in underserved communities who are "digitally divided," lacking access to this technology at home or work.

The digital divide has been growing since the rise of the internet in the 90s and has been amplified with the advent of new technologies. This problem came to a critical turning point during the Covid-19 pandemic. Quarantined workers and students had to stay home, creating an even bigger rift for those with limited access to broadband or internet services at home. Some workers were unable to keep their jobs. Students fell behind in their coursework. This sparked a greater interest in bridging digital gaps. 

In addition to government policy priorities, nonprofits and Ed-Tech organizations across the globe have used their voices and expertise to identify and mitigate barriers to digital literacy and access. Kai XR is one of them. 

We’rea cutting-edge 360° virtual field trips platform developed to enable students to participate in experiential learning in new environments around the world. It's our mission to bridge the gap between technology and access while empowering students to build the future they want to see. 

The digital divide affects everyone – even the most tech-savvy people. And as businesses continue to evolve in the wake of technological advancements, there will continue to be a growing need for individuals with the right skills to operate those technologies properly and effectively. 

In addition to our platform, we've made a commitment to be among the voices drawing attention to the digital divide. In this article, we'll answer the following questions: 

  1. How can we define the digital divide? 
  2. What is the societal and individual impact of the digital divide? 
  3. How can we bridge the digital divide?

Defining the Digital Divide

The digital divide may feel difficult to define because technology is constantly changing. However, there have been decades of research and conversation on the topic that we can draw from to build a foundation of understanding. 

Defeat the Digital Divide, an advocacy organization focused on improving digital access and literacy, defines the digital divide as "the gap between those who have access to technology, the internet, and digital literacy training and those who do not." 

The term "digital divide" was first used by Michael Dertouzos in his 1998 book, What Will Be: How the New World of Information Will Change Our Lives. It was further coined by a group of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) when they found that while the use of computers in everyday life was increasing, there were still significant disparities in access between different groups of people. They found many factors that contribute to this gap, including:

  • Income Level
  • Education Level
  • Location
  • Age
  • Ethnicity

There are many reasons why people lack access to high-speed internet connections, including cost and geographic location. For example, some rural communities are too remote to make broadband viable, while others lack the resources needed to install fiber optic cables or other infrastructure. And then there's the cost of high-speed internet itself—which is often prohibitively expensive for families living on a fixed income.

The Impact of the Digital Divide

You may be asking, why is it important to bridge the digital divide? 

The impact of the digital divide is not just about having limited access to information. It's also about being able to use that information to make a positive difference in your life. 

The effects of the digital divide on society have been well-documented over the past few decades. It's important to note that this is not just an issue affecting developing countries; even affluent nations like the United States have large areas where people lack internet connectivity or affordable broadband services at home.

A Federal Communications Commission 2021 broadband deployment report showcases a few alarming facts: 

  • More than 21 million people in the United States do not have broadband internet access.
  • 27% of rural populations lack access, while 2% of urban populations lack access.
  • 40% of schools and 60% of rural healthcare facilities lack broadband access. 

Low-income households are more likely to be impacted by limited access. In 2015, Pew Research Center reported that 35% of lower-income families with school-age children did not have broadband internet connection at home, leaving them to depend only on smartphones. This issue is amplified by  limited signal in rural areas without cell towers. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, this disparity was coined the "homework gap" – meaning there is a gap in learning between those school-age children who have high-speed internet access at home and those who don't. Pew also found that in April 2020, 59% of parents with lower incomes who had children go remote during the pandemic claimed that their children would likely face 1-3 digital obstacles to their schooling. 

The digital divide is one of the most significant barriers to improving our education system. The gap between those who have access to technology and those who don't creates an environment for inequality in our country. Simply put, without broadband, kids are being left behind. 

So what are the long-term implications of this disparity? 

There are many ways that the digital divide impacts people's lives:

Educational impact: Students who lack access to digital tools such as computers or tablets often struggle when it comes time for homework assignments that require these tools. 

One survey found that 17% of teens say they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet. This can lead to difficulty retaining lessons and achieving a passing grade, sometimes resulting in students dropping out of school. 

Skills impact: People without computer skills may be left behind as technology becomes increasingly integrated into our daily lives. They may also find themselves without access to news and information about their local community—despite its importance in civic engagement—which can lead to feelings of isolation and disengagement from one's community.

Digital literacy is one of the most critical 21st century skills that all successful adults need to succeed in the workforce. It's the ability to access and evaluate information through technology, as well as the ability to utilize it effectively. 

Financial impact: Almost all jobs require online applications. Those with limited access to technology may have trouble finding jobs because they cannot apply for positions online or keep up with their professional development (e.g., attending webinars). This can lead to low wages and the continuation of being stuck in the digital divide. 

The economic digital divide causes disparities in access to information, communication, and technology  skills (ICTs) that create inequalities in employment opportunities, wages, income levels, life expectancy and other socioeconomic indicators. Socially, the divide can create inequalities in access to services such as health care or education between different groups within a society or country.

How to Bridge the Digital Divide 

The importance of accessibility and connectivity in bridging the digital divide can't be overstated. Now that we understand the meaning of the digital divide and why it matters, it's time to change the narrative. How can we work together to bridge the gap? There are many ways individuals and organizations can make a difference. 

For the purposes of this blog, we'll look at the following:

  1. Advocating for access
  2. Leveraging new technologies

Advocating for Access 

One of the fundamental barriers to closing the digital divide is a lack of accessibility and connectivity regarding technology and the internet. Therefore, individuals and organizations must become advocates to improve both. 

In recent years, we have seen promising advancements made in bridging this gap through increased accessibility and connectivity across all levels—from policy changes on the federal level down to local initiatives and community programs that bring technology into disadvantaged neighborhoods in order to help people better their lives through education and employment opportunities.

Let's first look at a few policy priorities helping pave the way. 

The Federal Communications Commission is one of the government agencies leading the charge in regard to closing the connectivity gap. In recent years, their initiatives centered around access and connectivity have become well developed, including focusing on the following areas: 

Each of these initiatives is centered around gathering accurate data around connectivity and leveraging that information to guide priorities in making broadband more affordable and accessible in lower-income populations, rural areas, and school systems. 

In addition to the FCC, there are numerous organizations dedicated to advocating for greater access and providing digital literacy education:

  1. Partners Bridging the Digital Divide's mission is to assist agencies that provide digital inclusion services, including equipment, training, technical support, and broadband connectivity. 
  2. National Digital Inclusion Alliance is dedicated to advancing digital equity by supporting community programs and equipping policymakers to act. 
  3. Broadband Connects America is a coalition to connect rural America to broadband. 
  4. Defeat the Digital Divide's mission is to bridge the gap by providing educational resources to bring connectivity to the communities that need it – mainly by working with technology experts to connect school districts to the resources and funding available to get reliable internet service to their students. 

The list of organizations focused on this goal is endless. And as individuals, parents, and educators who care, it's our responsibility to find ways to support organizations and policies like the ones listed above to make a real difference. 

Furthermore, technology companies, such as Kai XR, HP, Intel, and Verizon, are advocates for digital equity and strive to improve students' access to technology and connectivity. Keep reading to learn how organizations like these leverage new technologies to support bridging the gap. 

Virtual Reality Provides Access

Virtual reality (VR) has been hailed as the next big thing for decades. But the technology has only recently become affordable enough to reach consumers. Even so, it's already changed how we interact with the digital world. It's been used in medicine, education, and entertainment, but its potential for bridging the digital divide is becoming more apparent. 

For example, existing virtual reality systems help people with disabilities experience real-life situations. These experiences allow them to overcome fears and build confidence by safely exploring new environments.

VR in school is a viable, low-cost option to introduce technologies into education to help students develop information, communication, and technology (ICT) skills. So not only can VR solve the issue of low funding as a barrier to accessibility, but it can also close the gap in digital literacy skills. 

Kai XR's affordable, interactive educational platform is the perfect example of this. It lets students take a virtual field trip using smartphones, laptops, tablets, and even VR sets. As long as you have a screen and access to the internet, you can leverage Kai XR's virtual field trips in your classroom or at home. 

The platform provides over 100 virtual field trips that feature a diverse array of people, places, and cultures to help broaden global awareness and expand students' worldviews. In addition, we've recently launched Kai XR Create, a makerspace classroom where students can get first-hand experience engaging in a makerspace in the metaverse. 

Introducing students to technologies such as virtual reality and the metaverse while they are young, will set them up for success in the future. We're entering the next phase of the digital revolution with technologies such as these. Visual and experiential literacy will become just as important as basic computer skills. 

It’s apparent virtual reality can be a great asset to closing the digital divide, but it doesn't solve the connectivity issue. That's where 5G comes in. 

5G Expands Connectivity

What is 5G, you ask? It's the fifth generation of wireless technology. It's expected to be one of the fastest, most robust technologies in the world and is expected to make internet connectivity better than ever. It's more than just a faster network—it will also have better coverage and reliability than previous generations of wireless technology.

But 5G can do more than just improve existing wireless networks. It has the potential to bridge the digital divide by making internet access available to people who don't currently have it.

Verizon, one of the leaders in implementing the 5G network, cites the following benefits of the fifth generation of internet technology: 

  • 10x faster than 4G: This means that information can be accessed quickly.
  • Ultra-low latency: This reduces lag time, meaning media can be consumed without buffering, and live interactive media can continue uninterrupted.
  • High bandwidth: Big capacity means more devices can connect at once. 
  • Expanded coverage: This will be critical in solving connectivity issues across the U.S. 

5G will make it easier for people in rural areas to access high-speed internet connections at affordable prices. It will also allow businesses to communicate with each other instantly using cloud services without worrying about latency issues or data caps.

A stable and robust internet such as 5G is essential to an accessible digital future. In fact, Kai XR depends on 5G to deliver our seamless, immersive virtual field trip experiences.

5G has helped Kai XR connect kids with emerging tech in the classroom. 

When we talk about bridging this gap, we're talking about connecting people all over the world—whether they live in rural communities, developing countries, or low-income urban areas where internet access is scarce or inaccessible. 5G could be the key to bringing them all online.

Kai XR's Promise to Bridge the Gap 

Kai XR aims to help bridge the digital divide and position students for success in a rapidly evolving market by connecting 1 million kids with 360˚, AR, VR, and XR technologies by 2030. With the help of 5G technology and the metaverse, we're doing our part in taking measures to bridge the digital divide. 

We're inviting educators and parents to see how virtual reality learning can revolutionize the classroom experience and help students develop critical digital literacy skills to become successful citizens of the digital future. 

With Kai XR, it's easy to get started with a plan for programs and schools. You can use Kai XR to give your students a hands-on experience of historical events, take them on virtual field trips, or even provide a fun and interactive way to review material. 

Don't wait to get started! Book a demo of the Kai XR today and explore the possibilities of VR in the classroom.

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In memory of my sunshine, Ky(ra) G. Frazier. Love you to the moon and back.