In the education technology space, people are constantly talking about the latest device or technology tool used to improve student learning. And for good reason — there are constant changes in the space right now and a lot of justified hype surrounding exciting new tools being developed. Tablets, one-to-one computing, hover cameras, recording devices, digital portfolios and other such learning tools can make wonderful additions to the classroom and can increase engagement among students.
However, an important topic that is rarely discussed in the edtech space (and was notably missing from SXSWedu, according to GigaOM) is the issue of digital equity. While some schools can afford to purchase class sets of the latest shiny iPads or even Chromebooks, many districts must make do with yesterday’s clunky technology and can’t access many of the great learning tools available. Tina Barseghian of MindShift also brought up this important point at our most recent edtech panel, but no one seemed to have a ready solution to the issue of digital equity across all school districts.
If an edtech company focuses on developing tools for the lowest common demoniator schools, they can be left in the dust, far behind companies who are developing expensive tools for students with access to the latest technology. But when companies ignore schools with outdated technology and fail to address issues of old hardware and lack of internet connection in student homes, they widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to digital learning tools.
Monday at the 2013 CoSN Conference on leadership in the 21st century, U.S. Representative and senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce George Miller introduced a bill that would fund technology in education. As reported in THE Journal, this legislation, the “Transforming Education through Technology Act,” would provide $750 a year in funding to U.S. schools in 2014 for hardware and software for the classroom, professional development services for teachers and educators, and a contribution to the “Technology for Tomorrow Fund.”
The act is well-supported among education groups across the country who recognize the need to invest in education technology among our countries’ poorest schools. In his SXSWedu keynote, Bill Gates told investors that they need to invest more money, right now, in education technology. Congressman Miller is also making this argument, but this one to Congress.
“These are tough economic times,” Miller told THE Journal in an interview at the CoSN conference. “We have sequestration. But it’s becoming clearer and clearer from more and more economic studies that this investment can’t wait, if we really want the results that we need — we need — as a nation from our educational systems…. We, the federal government, have been standing on the sidelines, and we’ve got to get back into the game. That’s the purpose of this legislation.”
Federal funding will certainly help bridge the gap, but the U.S. budget is tight and the issue of digital equity can’t be fixed by the government alone. Nor can it be fixed by BYOD/BYOT policies in schools, which can often widen the socioeconomic gap, as SmartBlog on Education discussed this week. It falls upon entrepreneurs and edtech companies to develop technology that can be used by all students, not just the privileged.
Please share your thoughts on digital equity in the comments below, or with us on Twitter to @Technapex or @ce_doyle.