Is technology a force of equity in society?
This week’s edition of The Great Tech Debate did not disappoint. I may still be a fence sitter this week, because I can see both sides of this issue, but I found myself actually voting differently in the pre and post vote. I was definitely on the pro-side of the debate before it started and when Kalyn and Nataly shared their opening statement, they justified every reason why I felt that way. I completely agreed that technology leveled the playing field (or so I thought it did), prioritized digital inclusion, helped marginalized communities by providing assistive technology for example, and empowered individuals. I was in total agreement with everything that was presented, especially when it came to their explanation on how assistive technology helped with communication and mobility. I was most taken with the pro-side’s closing statement that technology makes most things easier for others, but for some people it not only makes things easier, but possible. One only has to bring to mind Stephen Hawking to justify the power of technology providing equity. Who could argue with the power technology can have for people of varying abilities? Personally, I would be lost without the use of technology when teaching. In Saskatchewan schools, we are often faced with teaching new students who have moved to Canada and are just learning the English language. Thanks to technology like Google Translate, for example, communication is possible and learning and teaching is assisted.
There was one component of the pro argument that gave me pause, and that had to do with Kalyn and Nataly’s comments on the power of the Smart phone. It’s not that I don’t see the Smart phone as a possible technological tool, it’s just that I don’t know if I fully agree that Smart phones create obsessive readers and writers. They do have an allure, but the quality of what is being read or written by children and teens (or adults) to me is not always of educational value. All in all, at this point of the debate, I was still in favour of technology being force of equity.
Then we heard from Jasmine and Victoria and I found myself re-evaluating my own beliefs on this topic. When they spoke of the digital divide as not only having physical access to technology but accessibility to skills and broadband, I realized that there was more to providing equity then just making sure everyone had a device. I had never heard Randy Bush’s term, Techno-Colonialism, but it did resonate with me when this con-team shared the inequities that came from well-intentioned ideas such as the One Laptop Per Child initiative. In places where people need clean water and food, technology is not a priority, and cannot change the inequities these children face.
This made me reflect on how my own division’s response to the pandemic. The first thing we did was to make sure everyone who needed access to technology had it. THEN…we concentrated on securing a nutrition grant to ensure kids who needed nourishment were taken care of. I hadn’t thought of the order in which we took care of business, but just patted ourselves on the back that we were able to help.
Jasmine and Victoria also highlighted that yes, assistive technology can be a great tool for many, but it is often an expensive tool. Some businesses are capitalizing on the inequity people face by charging for the technology that can help them. It is hypocritical to think that the very tool that can help you, can also marginalize you. In my reflection, I realized that I have been well-intentioned when using technology with my students, thinking I was levelling the playing field between students, but what I hadn’t realized is that I may have been setting up those same students to stand out as different. I work in a Grades 6-12 school, and I have witnessed many students refrain or even refuse modifications or differentiation of any kind because they don’t want to be viewed as different. Sometimes when we try to help, we unintentionally marginalize students.
I found it very witty during their closing statement when Victoria made light of the technological glitch we all had experienced that evening with the storm. Inequity was definitely shown as some people were having technical difficulties and others were not. This duo also highlighted the affordability, accessibility and vulnerability factors of the digital divide which summed up their argument. When it came time for the post-vote, I actually had a change of heart and voted for the con team, and I didn’t appear to be alone.
I still believe in the power of technology and how in many cases it can be a force for equity, but I also see that just by giving someone a device doesn’t make things equitable.