This week Jeff and myself were tasked with arguing that technology has NOT led to a more equitable society. Much of our debate perspective came down to economic equity and accessibility issues for our users. Kennedy and Ummey put up a great debate, and thank you to the class for discussion that followed. The digital divide that we now see in society is much to blame for this inequity of tech.
How did we get here?
In Alyvia Bruce’s article, the author provides some great perspective in the origins of the digital divide. As the tech boom progressed through the 1980’s and 90’s, clothing styles were changing along with music trends, so did how big businesses operated. Through this time, employees saw pay raises but the managers and executives saw pay raises upwards of 20%. Employees that were high skilled, understood the new technologies and mechanical functions of equipment continued to succeed. Unfortunately, lower skilled workers were displaced and replaced by technology. The economic wage gap began to further the digital divide amongst families.
It takes money, to make money.
We all know technology is not cheap. With new advancements and a constant update of hardware, how are all families able to afford and access the tech needed for our staying up to date. Bridging the Gap, documents an effort one school district in Kent, Washington, has made in balancing the equity gap for their students. The district looked outside of the classroom, and where the technology inequalities were existing. In our schools, we are much more capable of controlling how tech is used and distributed amongst our students. Outside of the school walls however, we are limited in how our students access tech and the internet. In Kent, they tried to minimize this divide by listening to their students, and learn from their experiences with “potentially exclusionary technology practices” that existed. What did they find out?
“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. The matter comes down to an issue of pure economics. You will never be able to deal with the fact that we live in a society where the wealth is not distributed equally and probably never will be. In addition, there is no direct cause and effect relationship between mere technology access and learning. It is much more complicated than that.” (Hall, pg. 4)
Economics and Access
So what it all boils down too is if you have access to the funds, technology comes easier. Without access to those funds however, access to the technology is the bigger constraint on families. It’s not just rural settings either. Deloitte reported metropolitan areas such as Toronto, experience lower download speeds than the CRTC-defined minimum in 38% of households and lower income families were even lower at 52%. As a country this is a large problem. Compared to other G7 nations, Canada has some of the lowest internet speeds but the highest cost. If we look at First Nations reserves, their connections and broadband is even lower. This National Post article states over 65% of households did not meet the universal service objective of 50 Mbps downloand speed and 10Mbps upload speeds as reported by the CRTC.
Access is only part of the stressor for our families and students. Technology is forever changing. Tech Jury reports by the year 2030, 500 billion devices will be connected to the internet. This means more financial burden put on the users these devices and the inherent services they provide.
So Now What?
So even having proper access and tech tools, that doesn’t mean that the users are capable of running the software correctly. It is great the advances we have seen with tech and creating a more equitable society, for instance in the healthcare field with more assistive technologies and records being more accessible through eHealth, but have your ever tried teaching your own parents how to access it through the phone? It’s maddening. Insert Hulk computer smash sequence. I look at some of our school families and how quickly they can become unengaged in the topic matter. It all backtracks to money. A student does not have the means to afford the devices needed outside of school due to low income earning in the household, further hindered by geographical restrictions with low access or very slow access, which creates frustrations and leads to lack of motivation to do the assignments.
It would be great to say in my lifetime that technology is leading to a more equitable society, but at this point I can’t see it becoming a reality with the financial restrictions that exist. At the school level, we can continue to set students up for success by teaching them how to properly use the tech properly, and expose them to the numerous applications it has the potential for. Hopefully this instills the skills needed to engage successfully with technology in their future career paths.