First, I would like to state that Victoria, my debate partner, and I worked hard to research this topic because we both were more inclined to think that technology IS a force for equity in society. Together, we read over 30 articles and broadened our knowledge and awareness on this topic to find ways to argue that, technology DOES NOT, in fact, counter inequities in society, but rather, it amplifies them.
“While much has been written in the field of educational technology regarding educational excellence and efficiency, less attention has been paid to issues of equity.”Andrew A. Tawfik, Todd D. Reeves & Amy Stich
I believe it is important to define what is a “Digital Divide”. According to internetworldstats.com “The Digital Divide, or the digital split, is a social issue referring to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the Internet (specially broadband access) and those who do not have access. The term became popular among concerned parties, such as scholars, policy makers, and advocacy groups, in the late 1990s”. The digital divide in itself explains the inequities surrounding technology in society.
Nevertheless, the digital divide isn’t the only circumstance that prevents equity in society. In some instances, social media reinforces the existing social divisions. Boyd (2014) explains that “By increasing the visibility of individuals and their actions, social media doesn’t simply shine a spotlight on the problematic action; it enables people to identify and harass others in a very public way. This, in turn, reinforces social divisions that plague American society.” (p.163 in It’s complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens).
Here are some of the important phenomenon’s that discourage equity within technological society:
- Affordability: Many families can’t afford to buy devices to sufficiently accommodate their technological needs. They have to sacrifice basic needs to get connected because after they pay their bills, there is no more money for extras.
- Accessibility: Access to internet services aren’t available in many rural areas in Canada. To get these services, families must pay extra for better broadband installations or supportive technology and still, the connection is unstable or inadequate for their needs.
- Vulnerability: The vulnerable population is suffering. Everything is done online nowadays (applying for jobs, finding housing, governmental support, etc.) and a lot of people are digitally illiterate.
- Learning disabilities: In an educational setting, students who have learning disabilities, mental health issues and familial difficulties in school are most vulnerable while distance learning is prioritized. In addition to this, many teachers are not prepared to take on the challenge of teaching remotely. While teaching remotely, teachers forget the social aspect of learning, which is the importance of creating positive relationships by instilling values like respect, trust and care with students. This is hard to do when face-to-face and one-on-one communication is limited. As teachers, we know that “[…] technology is a necessity for teaching and learning.” It is a crutch we rely on but it doesn’t replace the art of teaching, which is a social activity, it improves and accentuates it.
- Software biases: Furthermore, educational software is not built to respond to the needs of vulnerable people because their “engineers” don’t have the “knowledge of accessibility requirements and standards, of the potential impact of inaccessible designs on educational performance, and of where to go for assistance on this matter”. (Benetech.org) We should not ignore how technologies manifest within social contexts, and that social agendas, assumptions and typical ways of knowing and acting are not just reflected in their use but their very design. The construction of new technology “typically reinforces existing social divisions”. Boyd (2014), explains in “It’s complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens” that sometimes “designers intentionnally build tools in prejudicial ways” because they are unaware of “how their biases inform their design decisions or when the broader structural ecosystem in which a designer innovates has restrictions that produce bias as a byproduct” (p.156-157).
- Techno-colonialism: Techno-colonialism is a term most likely coined by Randy Bush(2015) to describe “the exploitation of poorer cultures by richer ones through technology.” The rich take advantage of the poor by exploiting their cultures through technology. These philanthropic endeavors look well intended but these underdeveloped countries need help building schools and getting clean water before even thinking about utilizing technology to educate children. Papendieck (2018), asserts that to think critically about technology we must examine how technology in educational contexts is entangled with broader ethical issues facing society.
Therefore, if the government and/or other organisations don’t offer programs to help the vulnerable population adapt to the fast-changing technologies, equity in this department won’t be attained in society. Regarding education, teachers need to be life-long learners. They should be subject to maintain professional development about the use of technology in the classroom so they are aware of the changes and limitations they can bring forth.
Having access to the information available through the internet is not enough to address existing structural inequities and social divisions.Danah Boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, page 175.
If you would like to learn more about the other side of the coin on this topic, because I agree that great innovation is happening in the technological world to counter the social divisions and inequities that exist surrounding it, visit Nataly and Kalyn’s blogs . They argue that technology IS a force for equity in society. They bring forth great points that can certainly bring light on this great debate:
- Education is an equalizer because it is preparing students with 21st century skills.
- Greater access to information
- Pesonalized learning/Help students with disabilities
- EdTech teaches valuable skills such as citizeship, global collaboration and computational thinking.
- Access to Internet will improve with the help of government programs and initiatives.
- Technology can maximize and personalize learning.
What do you think... Is technology a force for equity in society?