President Barack Obama has unveiled a new program that will get $250 million worth of e-books into the hands of children from low-income schools districts, but without a focus on closing the digital divide, it’s a program that may never reach its full potential.
Many students in low-income school districts are left without the kinds of resources that their counterparts in more privileged districts have. One of those resources is reading materials.
Obama’s administration is working through a new app developed by the New York Public Library to help change that.
“Children should not be unable to get reading materials because their parents don’t have money,” said Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster, which has offered up all of its titles for kids 4 to 14, according to NPR.
It is only one of the major publishers backing the new initiative with hopes to get more students in low-income districts excited about reading.
“We really, really care about getting books to all kids,” Karen Lotz, the CEO of Candlewick Press, the publisher of the popular Judy Moody series, told NPR.
Candlewick has also agreed to open up its vast catalog to the students who will have access to the new app.
But that is exactly where the catch lies.
The sheer cost of shipping out such a large number of books to schools is unreasonable, making the e-book option much more reasonable for the publishers — but maybe not for the kids.
The Census Bureau reported back in 2013 that nearly 40 percent of the households that earned less than $25,000 a year didn’t even own a computer.
That means they are also far less likely to have devices like e-readers and iPads.
Less than half of that same population had an Internet subscription, NPR reports.
It’s the result of a serious problem that often goes ignored by the masses and one that’s hard to imagine is even real in a country like America.
When many households have multiple computers, laptops, tablets, e-readers and more, it becomes easy to forget about the reality of the digital divide.
That term refers to the growing gap between certain demographics and regions when it comes to access to the Internet and other digital means.
When most people hear such a term they tend to imagine Third World countries, not realizing that this problem is extremely persistent within America’s borders as well.
So while releasing such publications for free to the new app is a great idea, it also underscores the dire need to make sure students in low-income communities even have the means to access such an app.
That’s a problem that will take a lot of work and a lot of time, but the Obama administration has promised to focus on at least getting more schools caught up in the digital realm.
The administration said it is a priority for them to get broadband into just about every public school and library by 2018 and make these spaces a “third place” for students to read and study.
“If families don’t have access to devices at home, the children can get to the library and [get in] that habit,” the nation’s chief technology officer, Megan Smith, added.
The White House is also currently running another program in more than 30 cities to get every student a library card.