Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Addressing technology inequalities and gaps

FECODE, the teachers’ union in Colombia, sponsored six seminars in different cities in Colombia in November 2013, where they asked me to talk about technology, education and critical pedagogy.  Participants in the seminar wrote out questions for discussion following my presentations.  When question time ran out, I agreed to respond to the other questions in writing.  I have combined questions into some specific themes, with this being the first of three.

New information and communications technologies (ICT) have the effect of increasing already existing social and educational gaps.  What can be done about these inequalities and gaps?

Several types of gaps were identified in different questions:  social class differences between students who have access to ICTs and those who do not; gaps in access between students who live in the cities and those in rural areas where they are without any access to the technology;  differences between teachers and students.

Some teachers oppose any introduction of the new technologies into classrooms.  Many good reasons exist for being critical and skeptical about positive impact on education.
What, if any, are effective uses of the technology in learning? What is the impact on health as students spend time on the screen rather than in physical activity? What is the impact of individualist rather than collective relationships?

Despite these  legitimate questions, we cannot stop the inclusion of ICTs in education.  Nor should we.  They are too attractive and are getting more and more a part of the lived social experience of many of our students.  We cannot go back, but we must influence the direction forward if new technologies in education are not to increase already existing social inequities.

Social inequality is increased

Research evidence from the OECD PISA exam results shows that the most effective use of the technology is learned not in the classroom, but by students with access to the technology at home.  These students have more comfort with the technology than students who only have access at school. 

The equity issues in technology can only be effectively addressed by creating  more equity in society as a whole.  However, the reality is that in countries of both the north and the south, societies are becoming more unequal.  Equity in access to the technology is a part of the larger social problem of inequality.  Some steps can be taken, though, to make improvements by policies that give preference to the poor in social investments in technology. 

Special attention has to be given to students in rural areas if they are to have access to the technology.  As an example of what is possible, in Cuba schools that do not have electricity are set up with solar panels to produce the electricity needed for technology.  Again, equity demands that preference be given to providing access to those who are marginalized.

Generational gaps

A generational gap is recognized across societies.  A common mistake that many governments have made is to give the technology to students, but not the teachers.  It should not take any more than common sense to know that if you want teachers to integrate technology into their teaching practice, you give computers to teachers and encourage them to use them to assist in their teaching.  Instead, governments follow policies like giving tablets to students, but loans to teachers to buy their own computers.

The technology is attractive to many students and they may feel more comfortable using them.  However, the experience reported from many of the experiences is that the students use them to play games, watch movies and gossip with other students.

Critical pedagogies and ICTs

Even where teachers and students all have access to ICTs, effective use in the educational process is still very much a work in progress.  Many of the uses in education are based on individualist notions of "personalization" and  pre-programmed "assistive technologies."  Uses of technology have built in values, usually invisible and unexamined, that become an influence in the construction of values in our students.

A central role for critical pedagogy is to have teachers working together to develop pedagogical approaches based on socio-cultural, critical theories such as from Vygotsky's work, in contrast to the dominant individualist pedagogies.
Pedagogical circles of teachers doing collective, reflective research on their practice could be one method of teacher development of critical pedagogies in teaching with ICTs.

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