What about the digital divide in education?

digital-divide

 

Forget devices, the future of education technology is all about the cloud and anywhere access. In the future, teaching and learning is going to be social, says Matt Britland.

The future is about access, anywhere learning and collaboration, both locally and globally. Teaching and learning is going to be social. Schools of the future could have a traditional cohort of students, as well as online only students who live across the country or even the world. Things are already starting to move this way with the emergence of massive open online courses (MOOCs).

(Britland, 2013)

The above was written 3 years ago. And teaching and learning are certainly moving in this direction. I have made no secret of the fact that I think technology, when used correctly, is hugely advantageous to enhancing student learning. But are we creating a digital divide in education?

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

We can’t assume that Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is affordable for everyone. And we must not assume that all of our students have access to the internet at home. In fact, in the town of Kawerau where I work, only approximately 50% of houses are connected to the internet.

So where does that leave us as educators? My last post on ‘How technology has changed my teaching philosophy‘ outlined how I believe that in this day and age, learning needs to be accessed anytime, anywhere and at any pace. We have also recently included this in our school’s e-learning vision. But it’s all well and good to say this if we were a BYOD school. Our community is not in the position where we can be BYOD. However, our school is nearly at the stage where we have enough shared Chromebooks that each student has access to one when they need it (when they are at school). But this in itself is problematic. The question that needs to be raised in this scenario is: If students are at school learning in a high-tech environment, yet they go home to no devices and no internet connection, do they perceive that their learning at school does not reflect what happens in their real world? What’s more is that in such a scenario, we are kidding ourselves if we want to achieve our vision of learning anywhere, anytime and at any pace.

If we want to give our students the same opportunities as those schools that have BYOD initiatives, or those students that have access to the internet and devices at home, then we need to think outside the box. In communities such as Kawerau, there needs to be a close link between the schools and the community. We cannot sit around and wait for our community to catch up with the digital age. With this in mind, I have been inspired by what the Manaiakalini Trust has achieved in similar communities in East Tamaki, Auckland. We are now on a journey to provide a similar setup in Kawerau and some surrounding areas. We are looking to set up our own trust with the vision of providing all of the students in our area with access to a device, as well as access to the internet at home for that device. Every student would use this device to learn both at school and at home. We aim to achieve this with funding so we can enable our students to own a device over a two-year rent to own programme at a low cost. We also need to ensure that our community is connected to the internet. To achieve this, we aim to have multiple access points throughout the town, all of which bounce off the UFB connections from the schools within the community. Only those devices that are part of the programme will be able to access this UFB connection.

We are at the initial stages of making this vision a reality, and I look forward to sharing our progress as we aim to stop the digital divide that is disadvantaging a large number of our students. I would love to hear of any initiatives that are happening in New Zealand and around the world, so please feel free to comment and share!

 

References:

Britland, M. (2013). What is the future of technology in education? Retrieved February 05, 2016, from http://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/jun/19/technology-future-education-cloud-social-learning

Digital Divide – ICT Information Communications Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved February 05, 2016, from http://www.internetworldstats.com/links10.htm

 

 

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