Is Technology Leveling the Playing Field for Equity in Society?

Track, field, and seagulls“Track, field, and seagulls” by thetorpedodog is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

During the second EC&I 830 Ed Tech debate, two teams battled for support as to whether or not technology is a force of equity in society. During the debate Kalyn and Natalie took the stance that technology is indeed a force of equity in society. They gained momentum with sound reasoning about how technology provides greater access to information, allows for personalized learning and gives students with disabilities more access to assistive technologies. With evidence about the digital divide, non-neutrality and techno- colonialism, Jasmine and Victoria stole the ball back to their court. It was a close game with 48.3% of participants in favor of technology being a force of equity in society while 51.7% were against. Personally, I agree with Jasmine and Victoria and feel that in many ways technology is creating more inequity, especially when examining the impact of the digital divide.

Not only is the digital divide about who can or can’t afford devices, it also takes into consideration accessibility to the internet as well as the varying abilities of people to use the different technologies available. With the outbreak of the Covid-19, the reality of how many students do not have access to the internet, are unable to access online material due to disabilities or simply can’t afford a device has become critical when deciding how to teach students outside of the four walls of the classroom.

In June of 2016, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the internet to be a basic human right. The document states:

Emphasizing that access to information on the Internet facilitates vast opportunities for affordable and inclusive education globally, thereby being an important tool to facilitate the promotion of the right to education, while underlining the need to address digital literacy and the digital divide, as it affects the enjoyment of the right to education, expressing concern that many forms of digital divides remain between and within countries and between men and women, boys and girls, and recognizing the need to close them”.

Yet when we examine the numbers, statistically speaking, Canada is failing to provide this basic human right. In the article Canada’s Digital Divide and How it Can Be Solved, Kajeet states that while 96% of Canadians have access to the internet, this number does not accurately demonstrate the number of people who do not have access to internet in Northern and Indigenous communities and is disproportionate to the number of people from low income households. For example, “at least 42% of low income families in Canada lack internet access” and only 79% of people living in Northern Canada have reliable access to the internet.

Our neighbor to the South is facing similar challenges. In the article, “Should Schools Teach Anyone Who Can Get Online-Or None At All?, author Neal Morton points out how a number of schools in Washington State decided to not provide online education, because not every student would be able to access it. Education has often been seen as the vehicle to moving forward, a mode of opportunity for those who face inequality, yet when looking at education through the lens of the digital divide, it is no longer a model of fair and equal for all.

As a teacher providing supplementary learning I find myself faced with the realization of this predicament. I have had a few students opt out of participating in the supplementary learning opportunities because they do not have a reliable device at home. Even after the school offered to provide Chrome Books to any students who needed them, some still could not participate because they had no internet access. Others did not participate because they had difficulty understanding how to use the online platforms and apps, even with additional teacher support. It makes me wonder what teaching and learning will look like in the fall if we are still unable to teach face to face in a classroom. Will learning continue to be optional or will it become mandatory? If it is mandatory, will we be able to send out paper copies of materials to those students who are unable to access material online? How will we reach those students with certain disabilities that can not be taught online? Will significant changes to be made towards ensuring internet access for all?

A little food for thought.

7 thoughts on “Is Technology Leveling the Playing Field for Equity in Society?”

  1. Great post Alyssa! I also wonder if even if these students had devices and access to internet, would they use it?? My brother in law is in Minnesota and his division gave every student a device AND the internet providers offered free internet service during this time for students that needed it. They just had to sign up at school. He said he had only 8 students really working in class. They were like us, their grades could not go down. So that made me think…

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  2. Wow! That is a good point! I guess if everyone has a device and access to internet, supplemental online learning needs to mandatory and grades have to matter to motivate many students. I feel this demonstrates the value of teachers in the classroom!

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  3. Hi Alyssa,

    Thanks for the great read!

    I completely agree with you that COVID-19, really exposed a digital divide in our society, that I think caught many people off guard. I was surprised by the number of families who requested devices, or assistance in my school, as I had naively assumed that there wasn’t a large gap or divide in our city, let alone my own school. Knowing this now, I’m also in the same boat as you – curious about what the Fall will hold. If we do have to continue teaching remotely, I would imagine the learning would no longer be optional. However, as you mentioned, what then happens for those who still don’t have the proper access or those who require more support? It’s scary to think that this is only three months away and I don’t think anyone has those answers yet.

    Matt

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  4. You raise some really good questions with regards to what they fall will look like. We are struggling to get all students online due to a variety of reasons, even for our mainstream kids, but I am worried about the students that I support that already struggled in a regular classroom before all of this happened. How are we going to support them if this online learning is going to continue, especially if parents are returning back to work out of the home? I feel a student’s role is going to be more of a caregiver for their siblings for those who are old enough and school is not going to be a priority during these times of uncertainty.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’ve raised great questions Alyssa. I am so anxious to hear what will happen for fall. I’m really hoping we get back to “normal”. I’m hearing all sorts of different possible scenarios that could happen and I’m not enjoying most of them because they seem to be inconceivable in regards to what I will have to do with my kids and how I will have to adjust my teaching philosophy in order to get accustomed to these scenarios.
      Thanks for a great post.

      Like

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