Digital divide widens for disadvantaged schools


5 Feb 2007

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Students in deprived areas of Ireland are at a marked disadvantage when it comes to computer literacy compared to their counterparts in more affluent areas, an online exam support provider told siliconrepublic.com.

Despite broadband being rolled out to all schools, students who also have broadband at home still have the upper hand.

“For disadvantaged schools there is a digital divide happening,” said John McDonnell of ExamSupport.ie. “Although they may be able to get broadband at school, they can’t get it at home because their parents are either getting rid of landlines in favour of mobile phones or can’t afford it.

“If anything, the divide gets bigger and bigger because their more affluent counterparts who can have broadband at home can use it to support their studies in the evenings and weekends.”

McDonnell said some schools in disadvantaged areas are actually opening up classrooms for longer in the evenings to allow students to access broadband, but this does not compensate fully for having it at home in the evenings and weekends.

“With broadband at home students researching projects or accessing online educational materials can dip in and out of it before tea or at the weekends.”

McDonnell’s company ExamSupport.ie has just signed deals with up to 17 secondary schools nationwide for its online multimedia exam preparation courseware that includes interactive notes, papers and videos of experienced teachers’ lectures that can be downloaded onto MP3 players.

The company has more than 310 revision packs covering Junior and Leaving Cert subjects. At present, 8,000 students are accessing ExamSupport’s tuition materials.

“These revision packs are presentable online or can be delivered by post by CD,” McDonnell explained. “Each revision pack has a number of lessons, exam questions, print out notes and a video of a teacher giving lessons that can be put onto an MP3 player.”

McDonnell added that this business model can take some of the market share away from grind schools that prosper around the Junior and Leaving Cert exams.

“Some students are paying up to €30 per grind, which is very expensive. Each grind is a one-off. With our system students can watch lessons any time they wish and interact with the material.”

By John Kennedy