Technology as an equalizer or oppressor?

To quote a now infamous Disney song,  For the First Time in Forever I am undecided about which side I might choose for this week’s debate. Quite honestly, wavered hard between to the two sides and I am still on the proverbial fence. I am usually one to stick to an opinion, so quite honestly it is going to be hard for me to blog with my usual conviction this week. Image result for i am right

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However, I would have to say that the topic this week has interested me more than others, and I am wishing that I would have more time to research and solidify an opinion. This week’s ECI830 debate was entitled “Technology is a force for equity in society”. Both sides did an excellent job in defending their positions, and I appreciated how stoic they stayed in their stances.  I think this week was the first debate where we saw a definitive divide between the two sides, with very little overlap of opinion.

Anyone that knows me, knows that I am driven to create a society of equals.  While I know that this is a pipe dream and will never happen in society (ever), I still feel like I can make a small change during my few trips around the sun.

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So, I delved into a little bit of research on my own.  In Technology’s Priceless Value to Education , they indicated that access to skills relating to technology will level the playing field for students in their future professions. Therefore, access to technology might mean that a student may have better opportunities in the future, regardless of their socio-economic position.  Programs for tech-allocation and re-allocation, such as that used by Regina Public Schools, have been a structural change to equalize the number of devices that students have access to at schools. Previous to this program, schools with a more affluent school community council could provide more funds for technology than those schools in lower socio-economic areas.

In my opinion, this adjustment is a good start, as the article above stated that “students have a difficult time gaining the fundamental computing skills that are necessary to succeed in business, politics, education and many other professions.” Without access to technology, we are creating another disadvantage for a group of children who are already disadvantaged.  “In this way, technology is a resource that helps to level the playing field in a society where class and race gaps still distinguish who has access to certain life chances. Unfortunately, it can also widen these gaps when individuals cannot obtain access to technological resources and training.”

Further, the article Are Technological Advances Causing Increased Poverty and Inequality  addresses that fact that, even though our educational organization is attempting to level future opportunities for students, we must consider that some students will not have equal access to technology outside of schools.  Let’s face it, if families are struggling to feed their kids, technology might not be the priority in the household.

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Two-thirds of Saskatchewan’s First Nations children live in poverty, advocate says

Having said that, the statistics about the number of smart phones owned by low income families in last week’s debate (up to 43%) is intriguing.  However, as with any statistic, we need to look at the whole picture. If 43% of low income people can afford a device, that means that 57% cannot. Does this disparity widen the learning opportunities  for students who may need to access technology outside of school hours due to limited access within the school?

The article Are Technological Advances Causing Increased Poverty and Inequality stated the connection when they said, “with less computer access at school, many minority students may be expected to use computers outside of class in order to experience the same technological benefits as their district-wide peers.” Therefore, despite education’s best attempts to equalize the playing field, the absence of technology in the home may have a serious affect on the future of the child.

Which leads me to consider the use of technology and its affect BEYOND our schools…

Capitalism is the fundamental driving force in our Westernized society.  Much as I despise the very thought of being a cog in the wheel of capitalism, I am definitely a bolt (or nut) in the system.  I like to think that I am somewhat rusty and squeaky nut though, as I don’t let my participation in the system slide by without some friction.

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Having said that, valuing technology as an equalizing force in our society is a presumptuous statement.  Our society is driving technology use for capital gains.  It is a valued resource in many countries and I do not doubt that the push for the next technological advancement will continue to drive and be driven by economic wealth.

However, we need to consider whose values are being prioritized when technology is seen as a great equalizer.  I think it depends on what is valued in a society and to what end technology is being used? And if technology is possibly creating a further divide between the rich and the poor of the world, then a careful reconsideration and recalibration may need to occur.

There may be those folks who say that it is a reality of life and times, and therefore we should push for technology for all so that our society can keep up with the rest of the world.  A careful reflection on history would tell us that the competitive nature of societal advancement has not been kind to all societal groups.  Dare I mention the colonialism in Canada, for example?

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However, depriving our students of technology will not prepare them for reality and their futures either.  It will limit their potential access to education and information beyond their local communities.  Quite honestly I feel quite strongly about both sides of the debate.

In the article entitled, Emerging technologies, education and the income gap  , authors stated both sides of the issue quite clearly.

Cell phones can be used to start businesses and organize revolutions—or instead become tools for oppression and misinformation. Will cognitive aids become as ubiquitous as cell phones, with universal translators, sensory enhancements, and neural-computational interfaces available to all? Or will these technologies be priced and marketed and controlled so that only elites can obtain them?

In other words, technology, if used as an equalizing force, could potentially narrow the gap between those who have and those who have not.  However, technology also has the force to gain capitalistic and therefore potentially oppressive power over those who do not have equal access.

Finally, I think the article Technology is making the world more unequal. Only technology can fix this  sums up my quandary.

This argument is one of those colossal questions that can not be answered, but can be waded through by ethically making choices within our schools and our school structures.

And then hope that we don’t make a monstrous mess of things in the meantime.

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8 thoughts on “Technology as an equalizer or oppressor?”

  1. Great post! I too am on the fence with this debate. I do feel that technology most definitely provides people with opportunities and being able to connect online allows people to reach out beyond their local community. I feel that schools are put in an interesting place in this debate as I feel that we may have more responsibility in this than we think. I feel that if children do not have access to technology at home but the skills of technology are needed for the future we hold a responsibility to provide them with that access while at school. It really is an interesting topic and the wheels keep spinning and changing even as I type this! Great post

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  2. You seem to be having the same dilemma as me. You end your post sharing my feelings exactly, we have a mess dealing with technology in education and I just hope I leave this world just a little cleaner than when I found it. Great job!

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  3. I kind of just want to take your post, copy it to mine and say ditto! I am feeling very much the same about many of the things you have mentioned. Daniel summed it up pretty well in his comment above, the word of technology, specifically in education, is messy and there seems to be about 101 ways that things are done. How are we to make sense of all that? I am not sure we know how to or that we can but I think if we keep having informed conversations like these, we are at least working to create the best environment possible for our students.

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  4. When I initially saw and reflected on the topic for my debate I was incredibly nervous because I felt like the “agree” side was certainly the underdog! Technology is not cheap and for that reason it has caused a huge divide in society. Those who do not have access are at a huge disadvantage. I am fortunate to work in a school division that has made technology in schools a priority. By putting devices in kids’ hands we are giving them an advantage. Knowing that not all students have access to technology at home, I will rarely assign digital homework. By doing this, I hope to narrow the availability gap that may be present.
    You presented a fantastic argument and though I argued the “agree” side, I believe this is debate is far from settled and will continue to be a debate for a long time!

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  5. After this weeks debate, I also understood RPS’s decision to reallocate computers. I always thought so selfishly about how I had less, not what others might need. It is interesting that as a reflective human it wasn’t until this debate, when I was forced to think about the other side, that I started to understand. Who would have thought listening was a good thing?

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  6. Shelley, I agree with many things you stated. First you mentioned without access to technology, we are creating another disadvantage for a group of children who are already disadvantaged. WE need to make sure that there is an equal access to technology for all students. We as educators need to have a strong emphasis on “picking up” those who may be viewed as disadvantaged. By reallocating the technology in our division, this has been a start to bridging the gap amongst schools. We know for a fact that students will not have equal access to technology outside of schools. Some families are struggling to provide food on the table, provide proper clothing, and this means that technology at the home, may not be a big priority for some families. Including technology is our schools equally, will help students so we are not depriving them of the access to a better education and in addition, technology is our future… therefore, we need to prepare our students for the reality that is ahead, in the best way we can.

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  7. Yes what a mess! I feel like I keep swinging back and forth on this topic as well. I think I have settled (for now) on the disagree side to this debate. In this moment in time, I feel that technology often widens the divide in society. Perhaps in the future tech will become more accessible to everyone but for right now it is not. Perhaps as society becomes more open minded we will see technology bridging the gaps.

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