September 14, 2013

Leveling the Playing Field: The Digital Divide and English Language Learners


Leveling the Playing Field
by Tina Walker

President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative calls for 99% of America’s students to be connected to the internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years, and this fall, an increasing number of students are returning to schools taking large strides toward achieving that goal.

“In 2013 and going forward, digital literacy is an essential subject that must be taught,” says Leo Gómez, president of the National Association for Bilingual Education. “If we don’t start to recognize the true importance of digital literacy in the school setting, we’re setting up our kids for many problems and conflicts in their futures.” Preparing our students with the digital skills they need to compete for jobs globally and locally is essential.

But do English language learners (ELLs) and their native English-speaking counterparts approach technology on a level playing field? There are more than 4.5 million ELLs enrolled in public schools — roughly 10% of the student population in K-12 schools — and that percentage is increasing annually. The number of English learners has grown by 50% in the last decade. The notion of literacy has expanded beyond language proficiency to the digital world. Where does the “digital divide” lie between ELLs and native English-speaking students?

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