The Literacy Project Addresses The Digital Divide With Free Computer Classes

NORTHAMPTON – With a grant from Newspapers of New England, The Literacy Project will hold free basic computer instruction for adults in their Northampton and Amherst classrooms.  

According to Judith Roberts, Executive Director of The Literacy Project, the “digital divide is very real for our adult literacy students, most of whom are low-income and do not have internet access at home.  We would be doing them a disservice to graduate them without the computer skills they’ll need in college and the workplace.” 

Sheila Murphy, the Literacy Project’s Site Director for Amherst and Northampton, agrees: “Many of our students enter our classes with very limited knowledge of word processing and internet basics.  They know that computer skills are essential, and they want to learn.”

Current research supports these observations.  According to the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, 1 in 5 adults in the United States does not use the internet.  The numbers are much higher for adults who don’t have a high school diploma: nearly 60% of adults without a diploma do not use the Internet.  Income is also a factor: almost 40% of those with a household income under $30,000 don’t use the internet.  Not surprisingly, these are the same populations who are least likely to have high speed access at home.      

According to Murphy, “We integrate computers into our daily instruction, but we need to do more.  This grant will allow us to offer the dedicated computer instruction that our students are asking for.”  The grant comes at a particularly good time: beginning in 2014, GED tests will be computer-based.  

The free classes, which began in October, are designed to meet the needs of the individual students enrolled, advancing at the pace appropriate for each student.  Some students may be learning how to create and save files, while others may be learning how to create an email account, back up files, or create a Power Point presentation.   Additional funds will support the purchase, installation and maintenance of computers and network technology for student use.  Fall classes are underway and fully enrolled; Spring classes will begin in February.  To enroll, contact Sheila Murphy at 413-584-6755. 

Since 1984, The Literacy Project has offered free adult literacy, GED prep and college-readiness classes in Amherst, Northampton, Greenfield, Orange and Ware.  Over 400 students study with The Literacy Project each year.