Editorial: Progress across the digital divide

February 7, 2014 

Education is changing, to be sure. Parents who wonder why their child doesn’t bring home a textbook often grow exasperated by the explanation that there are not enough textbooks for all students, so they are used in the classroom, but not brought home.

Wake County school board members made the chance of some students bringing home a textbook next year even more unlikely when they signed a contract to use digital textbooks for some middle school social studies students.

The fact is, today’s students learn differently than their parents’ generation. Technology isn’t a mystery to be feared by today’s generation of students.

So the school board’s decision to make use of digital textbooks seems like a logical next step for educators to provide their students with access to materials.

But there’s a hurdle still to clear. Students who have computers and Internet access at home may very well thrive in the digital environment. But not every student has that computer at home. And for some that do, there remains an access issue for some students who need to use the Internet for their studies.

This challenge isn’t a surprise to school leaders. If fact that was a significant part of the discussion among school board members before they voted to sign off on the contract .

We hope that school leaders work hard to resolve the issue before they roll out any digital textbook program on a large scale. School leaders have options. Some are better than others.

Purchasing digital textbooks in less expensive than buying the hard copy versions. School leaders say that’s an important savings in a time when textbook budgets are shrinking. But school leaders could put some of those new found savings into the hardware students need to make the best use of the digital texts.

School leaders can also bargain with the suppliers of digital textbooks to increase the level of access some students need but can’t afford.

That school leaders know there is an access issue is a positive first step. We hope to see them attacking this challenge methodically with an eye toward providing appropriate resources in the places they are needed most.

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