What happens when you don't have a computer?

Intel and Microsoft take 2 different approaches to addressing the digital divide.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

It's hard for my kids to imagine not having a computer. Every person in my family has one (except the almost 2-year old; she just steals her brothers' machines). I get enough demo units and upgrade frequently enough that there are, in fact, computers to spare. There are, however, countless students and families who don't share that luxury. Which is why, although I haven't had much time to write this week, I wanted to end the week highlighting a couple of efforts by Microsoft and Intel to improve access.

Microsoft announced Wednesday as part of the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting that it was launching "a three-year program to ensure that one million students from low-income families in the United States receive reduced-cost software and hardware and discounted broadband internet service." The program is an extension of their Shape the Future initiative and is beginning in Seattle and Charlotte, NC.

Almost 10 million children in the US don't have access to computers outside of school, even as schools increasingly require computer-based work at home and their wealthier peers can access a wide variety of learning resources online. Online tutoring services, even, like Grade Results, that could help at-risk students graduate are inaccessible to the very students who need them the most.

Microsoft's program involves partnerships with a variety of OEMs and Internet Service Providers to drastically reduce the cost of Internet service and computer hardware, while Microsoft is providing OS and productivity software.

Intel, on the other hand, announced an initiative today to focus on educating health care providers in developing countries. As Mike Gann, the director of Intel's World Ahead Healthcare group, explained to me, the first time he asked a health care worker in South Africa about ongoing training, she explained that she "delivers babies under a tree." Obviously, opportunities for professional development and internet research on advances in midwifery and childbirth are few and far between.

Intel's World Ahead program is devoted to improving access to technology in developing areas and works closely with the Classmate program (which is how this hit my radar). In this case, however, the World Ahead Healthcare group is looking at subsidizing ruggedized netbooks for content delivery, full-featured computers for local content creators, and, again, ways to improve Internet access. The company will also be using its Skoool learning platform to host content for health care providers.

Two different approaches and two different specific problems, but the overall issue of the "Digital Divide" is a very real one, both here in the States and worldwide. For those of us who take our tech for granted, there are literally billions of people who don't.

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