Step inside most classrooms in this country, and you will see one of two things: A computer - or two - connected to the Internet, sitting on or behind the teacher's desk. Rarely will it be turned on, and it's used most often by the teacher to type documents, play solitaire, check the stock market or e-mail. This teacher is afraid to let his/her students have too much (if any) access to what s/he may construe as a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. At best, the students may do something to break the computer; at worst, they might find "evil" content on the Web. In a second classroom, the computer is set up as far from the teacher's desk as possible. It will be turned on, and students will be using it in their free time. To this teacher, the computer is a toy, a reward for doing real work - more a Nintendo-type device than an educational tool. This teacher rarely, if ever, uses the computer.
Both of these teachers are examples of a new kind of "Digital Divide." Billions (yes, billions) of dollars have been spent getting technology into our public schools, but very little has been spent on teacher and staff training, thus creating a kind of survival mentality among educators who are obligated to use the hardware and software installed in their classrooms. This means, ultimately, that most students in public schools are not getting the kind of training they are going to need most in the workplace.
In the good old days (about 8 years ago), when computers cost three to four times what they do now and educational software cost nearly as much, the software publishers provided free training (some of these legacy systems are still being used: One local school in an affluent community has two computer labs, one running an outdated Windows 3.1 technology program , the other, Apple computers with green screens). Now that computers have fallen dramatically in price, the cost of good software has also fallen, making free training no longer cost effective. But many school districts didn't notice that the freebies stopped, and failed to provide funding for teacher training.
At some point, the question became: Why don't teachers train themselves? There are all kinds of classes and books, what's the problem? The problem is that teachers are overworked as it is - planning/implementing lesson plans, meetings, correcting homework, being required to perform extra duties, and hours of work beyond the school day.
If we are to prepare America's children to work in the Information Age, we must provide well-planned, well-delivered, "paid" training for the teachers. We must all become more proactive in our schools. If you're really good with Excel, for instance, volunteer to show the math teachers how to use it; if you're a whiz with Word, show an English teacher or two how to design a newsletter. You don't have to be a computer nerd to help out. Urge your local school board to budget for training, as well as new equipment. It's the only way we'll be able to bridge the new Digital Divide.