Does the notion of "The digital divide" have descriptive validity in South African Education?

Ndlovu, Nokulunga Sithabile
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The attempt to bridge the “digital divide” by giving physical access to ICTs in educational institutions is believed to have the potential to improve quality in education, and subsequently contribute to the development of the economic status of impoverished communities. The assumption in the broader aspect and use of the term tends to be that equal provisioning of technology in schools automatically makes school populations computer literate and ready to participate productively in an information society. In this vein, ICT in education projects like Gauteng Online that have been launched in South Africa have focused on equity in the distribution of computers. However, this thesis suggests that this endeavour is driven by the misconception that advocates that irregular distribution of physical access to digital technologies is basically responsible for the presence of the digital divide, thereby overlooking social constituents that might actually be fundamental to the gap. This has brought about a systemic failure to achieve the prospective goals related to equity. For this reason, the thesis seeks to understand the term “digital divide” and its relevance in the South African education context. The argument here is an explication and conceptual analysis of data collected in two schools with diverse economic backgrounds that are a replica of disparities in South African education institutions inherited from the previous apartheid government. This data is drawn from the Pan African Research Agenda on the Pedagogic Integration of ICTs and is available to the public on its database. The comparison of the schools brings up elements of the concept that suggest that we must divert emphasis from physical access as a way of bridging the gap, to the underlying societal structures that appear to be accountable for producing the „digital divide‟. More research on the validity of these results in more diverse South African education contexts would reinforce the findings of this study.