When it comes to education, in spite of some refreshing news lately, Latino youth present a well documented and very troubling picture. On average, Hispanic students tend to perform far below their peers, have the highest dropout rates, and have the lowest college completion rates. This disheartening fact has enormous consequences for our community and the country, in a world that demands more and more education, particularly in technology and science-related fields.
In light of the Department of Education’s recent announcement of an ambitious plan to get digital textbooks and tablets into the hands of all students in five years, one certainly hopes that Latino kids – who still lag in broadband access at home – are not the ones lost in the shuffle once schools begin adopting technology more widely.
At the risk of sounding overly optimistic, the high mobile adoption levels in the Latino community may offer hope that the digital divide could be moving beyond the classic access issue. While the topic is certainly more complex than word count would permit to analyze here, the question bears asking: could it be that technology can help bridge the Latino education gap?
One organization, the National Center for Family Literacy, seems to think so. Since 1989, the Center has helped more than one million families make educational and economic progress by pioneering – and continuously improving – family literacy programs.
“The digital divide has become more about ability to utilize and understand; the access challenge is now more about consistent access, as broadband has expanded and many community locations such as libraries and even churches offer access,” says Emily Kirkpatrick, vice president of NCFL.
But the problem seems to run a bit deeper. Multiple reports, including this one from the Association for Middle Level Education Parent Involvement as well as NCFL’s own research, point to an additional factor: parental involvement in school is directly correlated to higher grade point averages. NCFL believes more focus should be given to family vs. individual student literacy because, says Kirkpatrick, “family literacy provides millions of parents with additional skills and support they need to move toward success for themselves and their children.”
Looking to harness the potential that technology offers to help engage Latino families, the NCFL has created a series of bilingual online tools, including a Spanish toolkit to navigate the college application process and fotonovelas to help Spanish-speaking families prepare for school. For kids, they developed Wonderopolis, a site aimed to prompt discovery, creativity and imagination through fun activities, and even a free virtual camp, Camp What A Wonder, to help kids continue learning during the summer months.
While technology and gaming can undoubtedly create opportunities to engage students and families, the truth is, a silver-bullet approach won’t work to close the enormous gap between Latino students and their peers.
Ms. Kirkpatrick agrees that there needs to be ”a vision for learning that spans place (school, home, community centers and learning on the go) as well as a variety of approaches – formal and informal.”
In other words, the ability to incorporate the educational opportunities that technology promises may help level the playing field if, and only if, it is not used as a solution in isolation but rather as a tool to address core educational challenges. Beyond simply providing access, a new technology-based classroom must include the components of parental involvement, trained and skillful teachers, and clear paths for implementation and evaluation.
As Ms. Kirkpatrick concludes, “we need to view the situation as building an ecosystem for education and learning.” An ecosystem, one hopes, that helps bring our kids up-to-par not only with their fellow American students, but with the rest of the world.
Elianne Ramos is Principal/CEO of Speak Hispanic Marketing and Vice-Chair, Marketing and PR for Latinos in Social Media (LATISM). Under LATISM, she is also Chief Editor of the LATISM blog, and hostess to weekly Twitter chats reaching over 18.8 million impressions. Follow her on Twitter @ergeekgoddess.