Is there such thing as true equity? I’m really not sure, and I think that is why I am still torn about the debate on Tuesday, Technology is a force for equity in society. Bob and Katherine debated against Ian and Ainsley to prove to use whether this statement is true or false. In the end, the win went to the disagree team with about 3/4 of the class voting in their favour.
So does that mean technology does not make the world a more equitable place? It certainly is trying, with all the open education movements, the MOOCs that are offered, and the accessibility to education that has not always been so available. Just like a colleague wrote in her blog this week, watching Daphne Koller speak to the poor situation of the availability of education at the University of Johannesburg (and the subsequent dangerous conditions people are faced with in order to get this education) was truly shocking. It’s hard to turn a blind eye to the over 550% increase in education tuition since 1985, or the fact that coursera and other open universities are offering similar courses for free. Technology has brought this access to education that many people would not otherwise be able to have.
Not only does technology bring education to the world, but assistive technology can have a major impact on the success one has in his or her educational setting. As I mentioned previously in another blog post, my mom manages the Neil Squire Society Regina location, whose major purpose is to use assistive technology to help people with disabilities find jobs and be successful at these jobs. Dragon Naturally Speaking, Kurzweil, and Livescribe are amongst many other technological tools that can help support the learning of a wide range of students with disabilities. These tools, however, can be useful for all students, as well. Take Google Classroom, for example. This tool, as mentioned by Jeremy, is incredibly useful for a variety of reasons. He used it for a flipped classroom approach, whereas I use it to help students have constant access to their assignments and due dates. No longer can they not do their homework at home because it is at school. Google Drive and Google Classroom can be accessed with any WiFi connection, and then the students have instant access to all of their assignments. Tools such as Google Read and Write have also been useful for those students with difficulty in spelling and grammar. Although I will be the first to admit frustration and limitations with this tool, in particular in French, it can serve as a starting point to help students with their reading and writing skills.
This is, of course, assuming they all have Internet access or a device at home.
All of my students have access to Internet at home. However, this is not the case with many different schools or communities within Canada and even Regina. Ainsley brings a very interesting perspective to the technological piece as she lives in an area with poor WiFi reception. We tend – or, at least I tend – to forget about these possibilities, and I simply make the assumption that everyone has the same access I do to devices that use the Internet at home. This digital divide can really be seen between the affluent and the less wealthy, both at home and at school.
It is really in a utopia that technology, and all the good it can present, would be as readily available to those of different socio-economic standings. Not every society is getting its needs met, nor is every school getting the funding it requires for technology to be functioning as it should. Is this not something that is really a necessity for it to be defined as equitable? Even something as amazing as medical robots can’t be used completely equitably, because of a lack of education and training (which seems to be a recurring theme between all of these debates…).
While pondering this debate further, I began reading my colleagues’ blogs and something that Janelle wrote in hers particularly struck me as a valuable lesson to be taken from this debate. Technology is not the only answer. We can’t just be giving people tools and expect them to suddenly feel as if their society is now more equitable. It is, as she said, a disservice to not accompany these tools with the help that these societies require. Tech isn’t the only answer to equity in the world, and it shouldn’t be our only way to fix this problem. It can help, but not alone.
This is actually a unit I have been working on with my students for quite some time now. We have been speaking to the difference between charity and justice, and what the importance is of these two entities in our world. Although I have been pushing my students to discover their own opinions on this matter, I believe that both are essential for our world. Without justice, charity would accomplish little as to fix the long-term problems with which we are presented. I see these similarities with technology; it can be used as a charitable solution to a justice problem. We can give tech tools to third world countries, but without addressing the causes of their socio-economic state, and offering aid to see this cease to exist, are we not amplifying further the digital divide that is already so evident in our society?
So, yes, technology can be incredible and it can offer amazing ways to help bridge the gap for those in need of it to succeed. However, it is not yet accomplishing this fully because, as the disagree team said, not everyone who needs the tech has access to it, or to the proper training on how to use it. This is the only way that it could really become a force for equity in our society.
Then again, it is very difficult for something, I imagine, to be a complete force for equity in our society. Equity is a goal – one for which we should all strive – but a very hard one to attain.
What are your thoughts on equity and technology? Do they go hand in hand, or stand miles apart?