Debate #3: Technology has led to a more equitable society
Posted On March 15, 2023
If I had to pick a side for this particular debate, or select who “won”, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to. Kennedy & Ummey and Jeff & Graeme both presented very valid and persuasive arguments, and there are aspects from each side that I agree with! And really, I feel like there are two separate issues at hand here. One is the actual ability to access the internet, and different technological devices, and in that particular issue, I do not agree that technology has led to a more equitable society. The other is for those who can access internet and technology, and in that regard, yes, I do believe that we have made some incredible gains in equity.
Let me dig into the two sides a bit more to explain.
Kennedy and Ummey were on the “agree” side of things, and looked at – for students who have access to technology, and people to help guide them – the different tools and apps and software available that can help make education more equitable. They spoke of numerous ways that technology has impacted society, from making it easier to access certain forms of health care and support, giving people a platform to make themselves heard, and making it easier to spread the word about issues, and obtain funding for a plethora of reasons.
John Ward’s article, “Digital Technology is a Game Changer for Education Worldwide”, claims that “technological competency is a requirement for entry into the global economy.” And many of our young people are gaining access to devices at an early age, and learning how to use it to their advantage. It can help children with speech and hearing impairments, blindness, physical disabilities, and a whole host of other issues that might keep some from getting the most out of their education. I had a student this year, for example, who had a break in his writing hand which required surgery to save one of the bones, which meant intense physical therapy, and having access to a laptop allowed him to keep up with his school work and assignments without feeling like the quality of his work was being impeded by his temporary disability.
So yes – I can definitely see how technology benefits those who have access to it.
Jeff and Graeme were on the “disagree” side, and focused more on actual access to technology, and even the physical infrastructure needed to use said technology; internet access, affordable broadband, affordable devices, even electricity! If we’re talking about levelling the playing field, it’s hard to say that society is more equitable when there are places in the world that don’t have reliable – if any – electricity.
“Bridging the Technological Divide in Education” looks at some of these issues, and Alyvia Bruce notes that a 2017 report found that “70% of America’s teachers assign homework to be completed online even though more than five million school-age children do not have access to the internet or computers at home.” And the pandemic and our evolving society have widened that gap, rather than making things more equitable.
Annie Murphy Paul, author of “Educational technology isn’t leveling the playing field”, wrote that if “every child has a computer, every child is starting off on equal footing. But though the sameness of the hardware may feel satisfyingly fair, it is superficial. A computer in the hands of a disadvantaged child is in an important sense not the same thing as a computer in the hands of a child of privilege.” She goes on to talk about the “second digital divide,” and identifies that putting a computer into the hand of every child isn’t enough. Yes, that gives everyone access to the technology, but what about the background knowledge? A guiding hand? Paul identifies that, in addition to actually providing the technology, you also need to provide training to the teachers, parents, and children themselves, you have to focus on practices, and how the technology will be used, and you have to make sure that everyone has the knowledge required to use the technology in a way that benefits everyone equally.
Which, let’s be honest, would be a gargantuan task.
One of the sources I liked the most was Don Hall’s “Bridging the Gap”, as he clearly looks at both sides of the issue, and really sums up the different ways that you can look at whether or not technology does make society more equitable. Toward the end of the article, he states that “If you define closing the digital divide as merely providing students more access to technology thinking that will help them learn more, I would have to say the answer is no…However, if you define closing the digital divide as providing equitable learning opportunities for all your students and ensuring they are successfully prepared for their future where technology plays a valuable role in helping that to occur, then the answer is a definite yes.”
I think more can be done to narrow the differing answers to that question, but I also think it’s a systemic problem, and until we see changes from the bottom up, this isn’t something that is going to be easily solved.