Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Bridging the Digital Divide Is Like Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

By Peter DeWitt — February 06, 2013 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

On Digital Learning Day where we are supposed to highlight what to do with technology, we should also be thinking of those who lack the opportunities to infuse technology into what they do.

It started out as propaganda by the British Prime Minister to get some “good will” news stories on television after too many stories about war. In the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Kristin Scott Thomas plays the British Prime Minister’s press secretary and she finds the perfect “good will” story to meet her needs.

Ewan McGregor, a fishery expert, is contacted by Emily Blunt, who plays a consultant, because a sheik wants to bring salmon fishing to his people. McGregor says it cannot be done. However, the sheik is determined that it can and believes it will be a peaceful pastime for his people. Kristin Scott Thomas goes along for the ride manipulating a bit from behind the scenes.

Before the plots thickens, McGregor is shown sitting in his office or at home with his fly-fishing accoutrements. He is stuck in his ways and has been following the same routine day after day and year after year. He is uptight and rigid. He lacks a sense of humor. It isn’t until the sheik and Blunt enter his life that things change. He loosens up and let’s go off his scientific side and begins exploring his more faithful side.

• What does this have to do with education?
• What can Fly Fishing in the Yemen teach us?

When watching the movie, you can’t help but relate it to your own personal life or perhaps even your career. We all get stuck in a rut from time to time and need good people or ideas to get us out of it. It also brings into light the question of access. What we have and what we want.

Digital Learning Day
Too often, and for some good reason, education is seen as the institution that will not change. Critics believe that we grab the same lessons on the same day and teach the same thing year after year. Some call it the brick and mortar mentality. Unfortunately for them, their great ideas will not work for every child, but it’s easy to pontificate when you’re shooting someone else down.

Unfortunately, what those critics do not see is the time and effort that teachers and administrators put into their craft. There are educators who actually listen to students and try to engage them with a mix of student-centered and teacher-driven approaches. Every day they are fighting the negative stereotypes that society thinks of teachers or school.

Day by day, more and more educators are infusing technology into what they do. We know that students already do this. Their cell phone and iPads are an extension of their arm. We have seen those cute videos where 3 year-old children are negotiating their way around an iPad. Some zoos even encourage orangutans to do it!

Today, on Digital Learning Day, it is the hope of connected educators everywhere that more and more teachers try to infuse technology into their teaching. Whether you agree with technology or not, it is here to stay and it offers a powerful teaching tool to students. They are enveloped in it and when they get to school they should not have to disconnect all day long because we will lose them...if we haven’t lost them already.

Bridging the Digital Divide
One of the main stories in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was that the sheik did not have access to salmon. Salmon were not indigenous to the Yemen. The sheik lacked access to the fish but he did not let that stop him. He found people who could help him. He had unlimited funds which provided the access to the people he needed.

Many schools and students do not have unlimited funds. One aspect of technology that we cannot ignore is that of students who do not have access to it. It creates yet another divide between the have’s and have not’s. In a recent study out of the University of Oxford, researchers stated that students who do not have internet access are not just academically disadvantaged but they FEEL disadvantaged as well.

Teenagers who do not have access to the internet in their home have a strong sense of being ‘educationally disadvantaged’, warns the study. At the time of the study, the researchers estimated that around 10 per cent of the teenagers were without online connectivity at home, with most of this group living in poorer households. While recent figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest this dropped to five per cent in 2012, the researchers say that still leaves around 300,000 children without internet access in their homes.”

The researchers’ interviews with teenagers reveal that they felt shut out of their peer group socially and also disadvantaged in their studies as so much of the college or school work set for them to do at home required online research or preparation.”

Obviously, the number of households in the U.S. without internet access is larger. On Digital Learning Day where we are supposed to highlight what to do with technology, we should also be thinking of those who lack the opportunities to infuse technology into what they do. Some of us have the choice to ignore using computers, which is a mistake, while others do not have the choice at all.

ENGAGE with Peter on Twitter

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.