Financial Times: The digital world’s other equality problem

Gillian TettBy Gillian Tett

FT hackathon‘There is not simply a gender digital divide but a widening socio-economic one too’

In recent days, Vivek Wadhwa, an American technology entrepreneur and pundit, has been helping to run a “hackathon” in the San Francisco area. But this did not comprise the usual computer coding and brainstorming sessions that occur at places such as Facebook or Google. There were no hoodie-wearing men in their twenties chewing on Chinese takeaways as they tossed around brilliantly lucrative entrepreneurial ideas.

Instead, Wadhwa’s “hackathon” involved dozens of poor Latino and black teenagers from the impoverished part of Oakland, a place far removed from the wealth-soaked Palo Alto region. And instead of trying to create the next gazillion-dollar IPO, Wadhwa and other computing experts were trying to teach poor kids to “code”, with a hope of inspiring them to become software engineers.

It is an intriguing experiment. A few weeks ago I wrote about the lack of women in computer science and pointed out that it was imperative to get more young girls “coding”, both to plug a jobs gap and as an act of empowerment. Dozens of readers emailed me in agreement. But some also pointed to another issue: namely, that today there is not simply a gender digital divide, but a widening socioeconomic one too.

Most notably, wealthy children in the western world are now being inundated with electronic gadgets in a manner that is turning them into digital natives from birth. Never mind the fact that elite schools in Silicon Valley teach their kids to code, middle-class children across America and Europe are living and breathing computing skills too. In London, for example, Falkner House, a private primary school (that I know through my own daughters) has just started handing out iPads for use in homework. These programmes are so innovative that they have won the school accolades from Apple; no doubt other schools will soon follow su

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