I value enlightenment. So much so that I almost have this fanatical obsession with acquiring more knowledge. I feel like Cate Blanchett’s character in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull where she is face to face with the aliens saying over and over again, “I want to know…I want to know”! I feel that education should be our most invested in endeavour as a species, as with education comes better health, technological advancements, and just overall increased quality of life for everyone. There is already certain pockets of people throughout the world that have access to good education, but to really see changes throughout the world, our focus shouldn’t be to provide better education to those who already are privileged enough to have it, but to level the playing field by providing access to education to those who currently have difficulty obtaining these opportunities. I view technology as the most likely solution to this problem.
We had a class debate this week regarding whether technology provides equity in education, and both sides had very valid points. Erin’s blog ‘How can you argue with Dr. Robot?’ touches on one point made by the disagree side and that is that technology could improve equity in education, but it doesn’t due to who has access to technology and who doesn’t. This is certainly a problem. I think the general consensus in our class was that a lot of us recognized that technology has the potential to improve equity, but the fact that many people don’t have the hardware or access to reliable internet only contributes to widening this gap. I, however, feel that this is not a fault of technology, but of other societal issues and that these can be resolved. Once resolved, I think we could really see an informational revolution as billions of people almost instantly gain access to the collective wisdom of our species.
Okay, so why is it that I think technology provides opportunities for equity? Well let me first state that complete equity is an incredibly difficult state to reach, but we can continually approach a more and more equitable state. I haven’t taught math, so I hope I’m using these terms correctly, but it’s kind of like an asymptote…we get closer and closer but will never touch! Certain people always have access to more information than others, and information is a source of power. Due to technology and the world wide web, more information is available to the public and I think this informational divide has decreased.
There are some really good websites and YouTube channels dedicated to spreading knowledge and teaching the citizens of the world. Khan Academy is a well known website, widely used, for learning. Some of my personal favourites are the YouTube channels Crash Course and SciShow. There are podcasts, such as StarTalk, which I have personally learned so much from.
One thing I’m not particularly fond of in this world is how we validate learning with pieces of paper, and without those pieces of paper it’s almost as if we think someone can’t possibly know something. One problem with this is that those pieces of paper cost an awful lot of money! Going to University to take the courses to get a fancy piece of paper is out of the question for certain people, however, we are in the age of the MOOC and websites such as coursera and edx provide access to free university courses. At the completion of a course, you can print off a certificate acknowledging your accomplishment. This style of course is still in it’s infancy and those pieces of paper don’t seem to carry the same weight as one you get from completing a degree, but perhaps we will see more acceptance of these courses in the future.
These MOOC’s can have benefits for high school students as well. Advanced Placement classes have become more commonplace in Regina schools, however, not every school offers them in all subjects. Students can register to take an AP exam, even without taking the course. If a student’s school does not have the AP course that a student is interested in, they can take these AP courses online for free and then simply challenge the exam. Another example of access to a learning opportunity that wouldn’t be possible without technology.
There are a whole bunch of other ways in which technology provides more equitable education as well. In the debate, assistive tools like Dragon (dictating software) were mentioned as they provide opportunities for students with disabilities or challenges to have more equal footing. Kyle’s blog ‘Leveling the Playing Field?’ discusses how his use of Edmodo was found to have had a positive impact on his classroom. I would sum it up as technology provides access to information and the tools to help us as individuals learn. But again, there are those other issues. We don’t all have the access.
The good news is, I feel like if you can get a device in a child’s hand and provide internet access, a whole bunch of opportunities become available instantly, and I feel hopeful about this. Let’s look at the hardware first. While technology isn’t cheap, prices have come down immensely. We are seeing developing nations industrialize at a quicker rate than the western world did and this is due to being able to leap-frog certain technologies. We are seeing solar panels on straw huts and cell phones in everyones hands because they don’t require the infrastructure of building expensive transmission lines. A lot of the people needing access to technology are in developing countries and it won’t cost as much to get technology in their hands as they can just simply bypass those expensive steps that the currently developed nations had to go through.
A device doesn’t have a whole lot of capabilities though without access to internet. While Elon Musk’s plan to provide worldwide WiFi through a fleet of 4,000 satellites doesn’t seem to be imminent, we have the ability to do this, it just needs to be a priority. You give a child a device with access and you provide a whole lot of opportunities. I’m under no illusion that putting a device in a persons hand is the sole solution, we need teachers and everything else still to guide us, but I believe that it is one of the best ways to narrow the educational gap. One of the greatest opportunities that the internet provides in my mind, is that it provides worldwide perspectives. We oftentimes grow up in small communities with narrow outlooks and adopt a certain way of perceiving, and access to other ideas and outlooks can broaden our own worldviews.
Live long and prosper