The Grand Old Debate: Equity versus Equality


Does education’s use of technology create an equitable playing field for all? 

Welcome to the debate.  Smashing blows were thrown by both sides in this week’s activity which saw students (Nicole, Tracy, myself, Christina, Amaya, and Matt) deliberate about technology use in the classroom and whether it creates an equitable playing field for all students.  To my chagrin, I was on the team arguing that it does.  This after completing numerous grad study assignments and setting up an experimental design to argue and prove the exact opposite.  Hope I sold it well.

In keeping an open mind and reflecting on the arguments made, I see the value technology and devices are offering to individualize learning.  I can, and did, find evidence of the progress technology has afforded students worldwide.  And I certainly see firsthand the benefits technology offers teachers and schools in trying to maintain a family balance while teaching overcrowded classrooms.  However, whether a person of different abilities uses tech to support their learning, teachers use it to enhance student learning, or schools use it to communicate with its school community, the access inequities between demographic groups has to force education to consider how it incorporates and uses technology as a learning tool. 

It’s also important to process that local equity, provincial/state equity, national equity, and global equity are very different things.  Teachers in my home town may argue there is equity amongst students and their use of technology, but most of that is because we are fortunate enough to be in a high demographic community where students often have one, if not two, of their own personal devices, access to home internet, and supportive caregivers who are well educated themselves.  Drive yourself 15 minutes west and hit the city where I teach, things are already a different story.  Even when the school system I work in handed out devices to less fortunate families to access learning during the pandemic, many students were left with little to no access to the materials which teachers were posting online and, maybe more importantly, left without the caregiver skills at home to help problem solve.

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It’s a fine line I’m walking here, and I know it.  I love tech, straight out.  I’m the person who fixes broken devices, rebuilds computers, solders circuit boards, codes, and taught a Robotics course in my last teaching assignment.  If theirs a gadget, I’m the one trying to dissect it and figure out how it works.  I would say the internet and its devices are the tool that support me in learning about the things I’m interest in.  Unfortunately, the students most effected when schools implement devices in classrooms don’t have the prior learning and skill sets needed to use their tech as effectively.  I’m also an old man who is content to ignore social apps, but there is no way the students I work with could ignore things as I do without being ridiculed for it. Unfortunately, the systemic issues within our society are manifested when technology is mis-used.      

Advancements in tech and their use in education are not going away.  I think I’d say, “nor should they.”  But instead, let’s start the conversation about what we can do to flip the narrative.  What can be done to allow advancements in technology to have the positive effects on education we are all hoping for?


7 Replies to “The Grand Old Debate: Equity versus Equality”

  1. Awesome post, Stephen! Your opening paragraph had me laughing – seemed like I was in the middle of fight night! I feel your struggle – my debate side is opposite to my personal belief side. I wanted to “challenge” my thinking – but now I’m smacking my head while I research. HA! Oh well, it builds character, right? And yes, you did a great job!
    I, too, love technology (as it’s sort of my job as an online teacher), but I really struggle with the digital divide I witness within my division (let alone globally). The question you ask at the end of your post, how to flip the narrative…it’s one that often keeps me up at night. I know the efforts teachers make on a small scale, (providing tech access to their most in-need students), but I feel the best efforts must fall on broader shoulders. Of course, I’m speaking of a government that fails to provide equal access to clean drinking water….but equal access to tech (in all it’s forms) should fall in there somewhere too. I wish I had a better answer than that.

    1. I agree about the broader shoulders Kim, but how long can we wait for them? And interestingly enough, those same shoulders are the greatest drivers in creating inequity, not sure they are all that motivated. Thanks for the reply, I can tell we have a very similar mind set.

  2. Hi Stephen,
    You pretty much hit the nail on the head with your question, “What can be done to allow advancements in technology to have the positive effects on education we are all hoping for?” This is what we need to be asking ourselves in the field of education right now. Technology is not going away, so how can we teach our students to use it in healthy and productive ways? I think that more room needs to be made in the curriculum for the examination of the dangers of social media, the internet, and technology but also to provide opportunity to use technology and explore its potential.

  3. You’re right. Technology is not going away, however, this has been an age old debate since the use of typewriters. But what I think needs more focus is digital citizenship, like computer class when some of us were kids. Teaching kiddos about being a good digital citizen and etiquette is key to being proactive, rather than reactive. Our government, curriculum writers and key stakeholders need to focus more on digital citizenship and make it a stand alone curriculum that goes from K-12, kind of like Ribble’s framework. The problem of incorporating it into all the outcomes, is that it gets overlooked and missed. If it is a stand alone subject, then people won’t be able to look past it.

  4. Hi Stephen,
    I loved reading your post. It really gets difficult to favor something that we don’t believe in. However, I agree that a curriculum should be designed wherein students can have exposure to not only the benefits but risks involved in using technology. As you said, “Technology is not going anywhere”, we as educators have to deal with it mindfully.

  5. Great post! I always enjoy your insights in class. I completely agree with your perspective on technology and equity. While I too see the benefits of technology and I even off PD called, Leveling the Playing Field with Learning Tools, these opportunities are for those WITH technology. So, yes, I think that technology can be life-changing. However, if we assume that everyone has access to the internet, we are cutting off those who cannot access online communication such as school memos, student documents, online registrations, or those life-changing assistive tools. I think that Covid has helped many people recognize this divide more than ever before. There was no denying the digital divide when suddenly an entire population relied on their technology just to connect with teachers, friends, family and society.

  6. Debate #2- technology has lead to a more equitable society- I disagree

    Article One: A social media weapon for good. The attacks highlighted in this article and the students speaking out on social media is evident that there are greater problems for youth. They are speaking out on social media. This reflects a strong voice for the youth involved in this attack. It also speaks to the injustice of people in the world, from terror attacks, mental health terrorist attacks. This article also highlights the gaping holes and missing solutions to effectively address these fundamental issues.
    These articles were an interesting view of Technology and the need for restructuring, greater vision and solutions to create an equitable situation for all.

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