Fighting social inequality by promoting digital literacy

The last speaker of the Digital Ethics symposium was Sandee Kastrul. Kastrul is the president and co-founder of i.c. stars, a nonprofit technology training program for inner-city adults to prepare them for careers in technology. I.c. stars also focuses on developing leadership skills to help students lift up their communities.

What I found so interesting about Kastrul’s speech was how her program’s mission has remained the same and very relevant despite vast expansions in technology. Her company was founded in the late 90’s, as Kastrul wanted to help people who had talent yet lacked career opportunities due to their low socioeconomic status. Although technology has changed in both form and distribution, the company’s mission has always been to lift up communities by training some of its members in how to properly use it.

During her question panel, Kastrul pointed out that social justice in relation to technology and new media has changed. In the early years of starting i.c. stars, the main factor in technological inequality was its distribution. Computers are expensive, and at the time not everyone had easy access to them. It was difficult for people in the inner-city to reach a computer, as they were expensive, schools lacked funding, etc. Computers and other forms of technology were more easily accessed by wealthier people, who would use them at work, at schools with better funding, or even in their homes.

Technology has since vastly expanded and become more affordable. The problem now, Kastrul says, is not one of distribution but of digital literacy. Reaching a computer or accessing technology is no longer difficult in the inner-city; practically everyone has a smartphone or at least a flip phone. In a time where everyone has access to technology, the ones who actually understand how to fully utilize it are going to be the ones with the power. The inner-city often lacks the resources to teach basic digital literacy. Kastrul emphasized the importance of knowing basic coding, analytics, and various software programs to survive in the modern work force.

One thing I really liked about Kastrul’s speech was how relevant her company’s mission has been despite changes in the field. I.c. stars recognized the importance of knowing how to fully use technology before computers were widely available. In order for people to understand how to use the computer they must have access to relevant education, which is something the inner city does not have.

You can’t fix social inequality of literacy by simply handing everyone a book, they also must be taught how to read. Similarly, widespread access to computers does not solve the problem of technological inequality without accompaniment of proper education.

What can I do to help combat this problem? Teach others what I know. I liked Kastrul’s solution because it was an active thing that people can do that extends beyond merely signing a petition or passing a school levy. Although the majority of us are not computer science professors or technicians we can play a direct role in promoting digital literacy in our own communities.

Ella Henning

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One comment

  1. Very interesting! Wish I could have been there for this talk! Nowadays it’s basically a requirement for many jobs that you are “digitally literate.” Many times we may take for granted the privilege of having all the access to technology that we do, we don’t realize that many don’t and thus don’t have access to the same opportunities in today’s society!

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