On the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday I made a surprising discovery when talking to potential customers during our NSF I-Corps L project about the lack of equity and access of even the most basic learning technology for children from underrepresented or low-income backgrounds. How is it that all children today in the U.S. do not have some sort of computing device such as a Google Chromebook and basic Internet access at home so that they can use online learning and research tools at home? As the recent movie, “Selma”, reminds us, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., our parents and grand parents marched for basic voting, busing, and housing rights even though they were sometimes confronted with hostile opposition. Shouldn’t we be marching so that every child in our country can have access to the countless volumes of educational knowledge that is accessible to those who have a basic computer and Internet access?
As I listened to an assistant principal explain to me that teaching children that come from low income families may mean that they may not have a computer or internet access at home. Often reading and math scores suffer as a result. If a child has internet access and a PC at home, they can go online to sites such as Khan Academy and watch instructional videos on almost any subject while using Google or Duck Duck Go to find information on research articles. Yes, there are libraries that they can go to but if they don’t have consistent, safe transportation to the library, how are they going to get the books they need or use the public PC’s and internet access. I am not saying that having a PC and Internet is necessary to have an effective education but it can be an amazing vehicle to broaden a child’s horizon to what’s beyond their world in their local neighborhood. It would also provide them the opportunity to use their computers to learn how to code and maybe someday create the next version of the Internet.
What would Dr. King think and do if he knew children were going without the basic PC and internet technology in their schools and homes that could accelerate their learning and make them more productive citizens and contributors to today’s economy? I think he would get us to march and contribute our resources to make it happen. He may ask us: What can YOU do to help provide all children and schools with computers and basic internet access regardless of a child’s background or socio-economic status?
Andrew B. Williams, Ph.D., is a humanoid robotics and AI professor at Marquette University. His recent TEDx talk, Belonging in Technology, What I learned from Steve Jobs, addresses creativity and its relationship to innovation, diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Dr. Williams is the author of, “Out of the Box: Building Robots, Transforming Lives”.