Technology: A Force for Equity, or Forcing a Stronger Divide?

Unlike last week’s debate, I have to admit that I came in to this debate with a pretty good idea about which side of the argument I stood on. Granted, I knew there would be arguments from the opposing side of my own personal beliefs that could sway me, but I was pretty confident that my overall stance would not change.  Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s take a look at how the debate went down!

Technology IS a Force for Equity in Society

Kalyn and Nataly took on the side of arguing that technology is a force for equity in society.

Their video, shown above, highlighted the following arguments:

  1. Technology allows for greater access to information
  2. Technology levels the playing field for students by allowing for personalized learning
  3. Technology helps people with disabilities

Kalyn and Nataly also outlined how initiatives, such as the Digital School in a Box are working to ensure children in marginalized communities have access to technology.

They also stated that it is believed that smart phones will be an important factor in increasing literacy. This was probably my favourite argument!

Technology is NOT a Force for Equity in Society

Victoria and Jasmine took on the opposing side, arguing that technology was not a force for equity in society.

Their argument focused around:

  1. The Digital Divide
  2. Techno-Colonialism
  3. The Non-Neutrality of Technology

My Thoughts and Take-Aways

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I was pretty certain where I stood on this argument. Entering into this debate I would have told you, without hesitation, that I stood strongly on the disagree side. That’s not to say that I cannot see the positives, but my own experiences have pushed me further onto one side of the fence.

WHY I DISAGREE

One of the arguments that Victoria and Jasmine outlined was the idea that what the digital divide once meant has evolved. It is no longer simply HAVING the technology itself, but now includes aspects such as affordability and accessibility to reliable connections/networks. I work in a borderline community school, and I have witnessed firsthand the struggles families can go through when it comes to these aspects.

One article that Victoria and Jasmine posted spoke about the struggles of teaching remotely, now that schools are closed. The article spoke about how online classrooms are not equitable for all students, and this is a scenario that has been very true for me for several reasons.

The school I work in has a wide range of socio-economic statuses, and I have students who have had a cell phone for years while other families struggle to keep their power on. Technology is not always a priority for my families, or even an option. This has become more apparent in the new times we are living in. When teaching went online, there were dozens of students at my school that did not have the technology at home to participate. Our school division did hand out tech to those families in need; however, by the time that process went through, those students had lost weeks of their education.

Even when students did have tech, it was still not an easy transition for many of them. Most of my students went to rural communities when schools shut down, and there is little to no access to the internet (or the best they get is an unreliable connection). These students are also missing out on their education simply because they don’t have the accessibility to join our virtual classroom. I know there is no way to change the situation currently going on in our world, but it has opened my eyes even more to just how much inequality there is. In our debate discussion, I believe it was Matt that mentioned the idea that the more we force the use of technology, the greater the divide can become for those who do not have it. This has become much clearer to me in the last 8 weeks.

The last argument presented by Victoria and Jasmine that really struck a chord for me was the idea of Techno-Colonialism, particularly the One Laptop Per Child initiative they spoke about. As they mentioned in their video, many countries criticized the initiative as they believed they needed other necessities, such as clean drinking water, before they needed laptops. Teaching in the type of school I am in, I can completely agree with this criticism. I know there are many families in my school that have such HIGHER needs than technology, such as food or basic necessities. I know technology is a large part of our world, but, for many families, it is not a priority, or an option, in their lives.

Reasons to Sway the Other Way

Now, I know I sound pretty set in my ways, but I have to give credit to Kalyn and Nataly.  They had several points that made me stop and think, and contemplate my own thinking.

1.) The idea that smart phones will be an important factor for increasing literacy

I am a primary teacher, so anything that helps with literacy piques my interest! Now, some may think this is a crazy notion; however, I have actually had a conversation with a student that helps prove this point!

I had a grade 1 boy who was constantly hiding books in his desk. Now, being his teacher, I knew he was unable to read yet, but I was curious…. so I asked him, “A, why do you hide your books in your desk?”  To which he replied, “Ms. McDonald, I need to practice my reading so I know how to chat with my friends when I play my games online!!”

It sounded a little silly, but also made perfect sense. This child wanted to read so he can send texts and chat with his friend. Granted, I would have liked him to want to read just for the enjoyment, but, hey, he wanted to learn how to read, so I couldn’t ask for much more!

2.) Individualized Learning and Assistive Technology

This was another key point from the opposing side that really piqued my interest. I have seen first hand what assistive technology can do, and how it can help so many individuals. Working at the Autism Resource Summer Camp, there were several kids that used various forms of technology, and it melted my heart to see them smile as they felt included in the group, or were able to express themselves. Anything that offers options for students to feel more heard or welcomed is a positive in my books. The disagree side did bring up the idea of cost and accessibility to such tools, but, nowadays, there seems to be a cost for everything! Some things are just worth the money and time it takes to get them (in my opinion).

Overall, I think I still stand more strongly on the disagree side, but I appreciate the strong and valid points that the agree team presented to make me rethink some of my beliefs. There are definitely some ways that technology helps equity, especially when it comes to personalizing learning and as a motivation to read (even if it is just to chat online); however, I still believe that there are bigger issues causing inequality in our world, and, sometimes, forcing technology can make that divide even bigger.

2 thoughts on “Technology: A Force for Equity, or Forcing a Stronger Divide?

  1. Great post Amy. I also work in a ‘borderline community school’ (I like that term-thanks) and I had many of the same thoughts as you on this topic. We also have many families in our school who struggle to get the basic necessities, never mind technology. I am a firm believer that we can’t teach a child anything until their basic needs are met. How can you learn and pay attention when the only thing you can think about is where you will get your next meal? Giving these families technology will not make them equal. Although, like you said there are many benefits and technology does provide opportunities.

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  2. Hi Amy, thank you for take on the digital divide. Even with some of the tech that is given out to families in need may appear like we are reaching a sense of equity, you raised a valid point by the time that many of these families received their tech that they have lost weeks of valuable time of education. Furthermore, I would assume that much of this technology could highlight another component of the digital divide which includes the knowledge and skills to know how to efficiently use the technology that was given to the families. Thank you for your perspective,

    Like

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