In an era where global citizens depend highly on technological advances, to be digitally literate is a must. In the US the Internet penetration is close to 78 percent, while the average for the rest of the world is 30 percent, according to internetworldstats.com. This gap represents an issue of fair inclusion and people’s participation in economic growth, education and politics. But the digital gap is also local.
A wide margin of rural Americans are not benefiting from this age of technology. For example, hundred of seasonal and migrant-workers in Monterey County rural areas haven’t had the opportunity to submit an online application, send an email or do a google search about their rights.
“Rural schools have fewer financial resources — largely as a result of diminished local property tax bases and inequitable distributions of state funds,” reports the biannual study of Why Rural Matters. “This disparity underscores the fact that children living in persistently poor rural America need greater attention.”
In many cases, children and teens are the only ones in the households who have developed computers skills as students, but once they are out of school they face difficulties to persevere with their digital communication learning.
“It’s incredible that thousand of farm workers and their children live a few miles away from Silicon Valley and still there are few resources for them to catch up with basic technology that empowers them,” said community educator and founder of Conexión Comunitaria, Megan Heath, in a talk to college students.
A local initiative addresses the county’s digital literacy issue. Conexión Comunitaria, a program linked to the Media Center of Art, Education and Technology -a service of the Monterey County Office of Education. Megan Heath, the Conexión Comunitaria project coordinator acknowledges the hardships of disenfranchised population relating to technology.
“In general, rural areas in Monterey County, especially immigrant households, are of low-income. This means no computers, no Internet, and very little understanding on why technology is important.”
In 2009, $7.2 billion in grants and loans were invested in the installation of broadband networks across America. Government agencies set this money aside to help those living in rural regions, reports Rachael King, technology writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.
Heath coordinates workshops throughout Monterey County, focusing primarily on the South County rural region of Salinas, Gonzales, Greenfield, Soledad and King City.
“In Conexión Comunitaria, we help anyone who wants to learn basic technology skills, such as setting up an email account, searching information on databases, and preparation for a proactive role in the 21st century,” she said.
In collaboration with Teledramatic Arts & Technology Department (TAT) at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB), Heath had coordinated a six-week workshop from Oct. 15 to Nov. 19. The sessions supported by TAT Service-Learning students focus on story digital telling.
By the end of the six-week workshop, students will have edited a short video of their experience. “This workshop is primarily for the youth in rural South County, although anyone in Monterey County is welcome.”
“There are many organizations who want to see the youth in rural areas here in Monterey County thrive, so we all contribute collectively,” Heath commented.
Jesús Madrigal, a sophomore at Gonzales High School, said, “This is a cool opportunity for me and my friends. My mom is from Mexico, and she doesn’t know about computers. I have a cousin here that makes music, and I would like to learn to make videos so when he’s famous, I can make his videos. I don’t want to be a victim of the streets.”