On the first night of EDUC 310 we spent time discussing the rate at which technology changes and the ways that it has changed not only how we learn but also the rate at which we learn. Since that class I have been thinking about the existing educational achievement gap between urban and suburban public school students. I began to wonder how that gap is going to be affected as the trend of infusing technology into classrooms and curriculum gains momentum. My initial reaction was that as the wealthier school districts continue to foster environments with 2:1 or even 1:1 student to computer ratios, their rate of academic acceleration is going to increase exponentially. What is going to happen to students who attend schools with strapped budgets, limited resources and poorly trained personnel? Like the rate of academic acceleration, will the achievement gap too be widened exponentially due to this digital divide in education?
I did some research on the topic and was surprised to find little in the way of actual statistics. I found some articles that addressed the problem, but most were several years old and none provided a direct answer to the question that I was asking.
In her article, Permanent Injustice: Rawls' Theory of Justice and the Digital Divide, Elizabeth Hendrix points out that many students in lower-income school districts do not have convenient unlimited access to state-of-the-art computers. Yet progress continues and the use of computers and the Internet are being introduced into the curriculum in the form of home-based projects and homework assignments. For some students gaining access to a computer after school hours may involve transportation, long waits in a queue, and timed usage. Roadblocks.
The buck does not stop with home usage though. Classrooms in schools with a low budget are not equipped with the same student to computer ratios as we are seeing in wealthier suburban schools. I visited a fourth-grade class room in Kensington last year. There were four computer and 36 students – a 9:1 ratio. According to the NEA Policy Brief, there are many classrooms that have no computers in them at all so the students must move to the library or trade equipment back and forth between classrooms.
Hidden expenses are also a factor. Technology costs much more than just the price of a computer. Teacher training, education-specific software, and regular upgrades and maintenance are all extremely expensive. How can a school with budget problems be expected to maintain any kind of competitive edge for its students? Where will this stream of funds come from?
My question remains: how big of an impact is the digital divide in education going to have on the achievement gap? It may indeed be too soon to tell right now, but I don’t believe it’s too soon to forecast.
Hendrix, E. (2005). Permanent Injustice: Rawls' Theory of Justice and the Digital Divide. Educational Technology & Society, 8 (1), 63-68.
NEA Policy Brief. (2008). Technology in Schools: The ongoing Challenge of Access, Adequacy and Equity. http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/mf_PB19_Technology.pdf.