April 19, 2013
A Bus That Bridges The Gap In The Digital Divide
One Florida woman is giving a new name to the big yellow bus. In fact, she got rid of the yellow and made it brilliant; not in just color, but also in technology and education. Estella Pyfrom, a 76-year-old retired guidance counselor from Palm Beach County, has sunk much of her savings and retirement monies into Estella’s Brilliant Bus, as reported by CNN.
The bus has 17 computer stations and provides free, computer-based tutoring. The mobile computer lab has helped more than 2,000 students since 2011.
Pyfrom realized that students from lower-income families were being left behind in terms of technology. When a family must decide between paying the mortgage and keeping their computer up to date, obviously having a home wins. But in the long run, students who do not have computer access do not have the same possibilities as those who do.
So, Estella Pyfrom developed a mobile, free computer lab to help these students and their parents. She called it Estella’s Brilliant Bus, and it works by the motto, “Have Knowledge, Will Travel.”
This is pretty inspiring work she is doing because the Institute of the Study of Labor explained that students who lack access to a home computer are less likely to graduate high school. As Pyfrom said, “The digital divide is absolutely real…And it didn’t just become a reality. It’s been there for years, and it’s getting bigger and more important.”
She has help from volunteers and is looking for more support, especially financially. Thus far, she has spent about $1 million (USD) and expects to be able to continue to use her own savings for just two more years.
What Ms. Pyfrom is doing is incredible. I work at a rural community college in rural Oklahoma. My student population is not wealthy on the whole. Oh, there are those rare students who come from middle class, upper-middle class, or upper class families financially, but on the whole the students are from the lower-middle class and poor.
I set this up to say that I get what Pyfrom is saying. Some of my students have barely seen a computer let alone used one enough to be comfortable with them. They do not know how to use Microsoft Word, or any word processor for that fact. Heck, they barely know how to turn a computer on. And the internet is completely foreign. I spend much of my time tutoring them on what seems to me to be simple activities because I do them every day; but for my students, they are completely unfamiliar, completely new.
These students are not dumb. They simply have not had the exposure to computers that more affluent students and areas have. I have many students who have to do all their work at school because they do not own a computer, which means that they do not have the same access and time that my students with a personal computer do. Some of my students simply cannot afford a computer, and if they can, they struggle to afford internet access of any kind. Of those who have both a computer and internet access, several of them still have dial-up, which puts them at a disadvantage. These are very frustrating situations for the student, the faculty, and the college as a whole. How can we properly prepare our students for four-year institutes or their careers if they cannot use a computer?
Technology is more and more prevalent in higher education and in the work place. If we are going to prepare our students for both, we must have them start using computers and technology at young ages. Furthermore, we have to give them all, wealthy and poor, the same access and education. I applaud Pyfrom and hope she is able to impact the entire country.
To help her do so, check out her website at http://www.estellasbrilliantbus.org.
Image Credit: Estella’s Brilliant Bus