By Vic Sutton
The challenges of digital equity and social justice were recurrent themes in two recent meetings looking at ways to leverage technology to improve education.
“Digital equity” is shorthand for the bundle of problems that prevent many from accessing online resources, in particular the Internet.
Some would-be users live in areas that do not have broadband access. Other users, even in areas where there is high-speed broadband, cannot afford it. Yet more people have simply not gotten around to getting online.
As Dr. Louis Gomez of UCLA put it, we are facing “epic inequality.” The U.S. education system, Dr. Gomez maintained, “is marked by racial and class inequality.” He added that poor educational performance “has persisted for decades for large swaths of the U.S. population.”
Dr. Gomez was speaking at this year’s Cyberlearning 2015 conference, organised by the Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning (CIRCL) and held in Arlington, VA, on 27-28 January.
Digital access – or lack thereof – is one of the challenges. As Dr. Kumar Garg observed, “We have better wifi in the coffee shop than we do in the classroom.”
Dr. Garg is a senior advisor to the White House. He added, “We struggle over goals in education, and we are still far from transformative education. Moreover, the market is huge, with some 15,000 school districts.”
He concluded, “We have to bolster investment in education.”
The overall goal was succinctly put in a 2011 article by Greg Borgerding, then-assistant principal at White River High School in the state of Washington: “If the education of children is a paramount commitment in our society, it then becomes a moral imperative incumbent upon superintendents to ensure systemic access and equity for all students.”1
The same issues emerged at the 2015 meeting of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE), most of whose members are individual teacher educators. Its meeting was held in Las Vegas, NV, on 2-6 March.
SITE’s “special interest group” on equity and social justice is one of fifteen groupings that bring together educators with shared interests. This year’s meeting resolved to try to arrange a pre-conference event in 2016, to draw attention to the challenges.
Much more could be said about the access to broadband of the different groups in U.S. society, for example, African American, native American or Latino populations. The Pew Charitable Trusts have good statistics about the issues.
However, at the end of the day, the reality is inescapable. In a society that relies more and more on online access to information, many still cannot or do not access the Internet.
The reasons are various, and complex. But the largest is surely a simple lack of financial resources. We are unlikely to see digital equity unless we first secure social justice.
1 “What Is the Knowing-Doing Gap?” Susan Goding’s School Board Blog, 28 July 2011.