In Edtech, Solution to Digital Equity Remains to Be Seen

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

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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 But when companies ignore schools with outdated technology and fail to address issues of old hardware and lack of internet connection in student homes, they widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots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.

Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.

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About Caity Doyle

Caity is a former English teacher and the editor of Technapex. Caity is extremely passionate about education and is TriplePoint PR's resident edtech expert. When not researching education policy and edtech, she enjoys running along the Bay Trail while blaring the Boss through her headphones, watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, and meeting fellow Italians in North Beach.
  • Kayla Noelle McIntosh

    I completely agree with this entry!!! Digital equity can be improving in one social institution, while also remaining discrepant in the other. Public schools, I believe, are attempting to do their part in the best way to narrow this digital divide. However, if certain minorities and ethnic groups are more likely to be using computers for certain tasks, yet don’t have access to this technology at home, how does this contribute to the digital “home-school connection?” Students and every learner deserve to have academic consistency, and the technology necessary to thrive. School funding (obviously) continues to be an issue, but the state and federal legislation needs to take more steps to make digital access a possibility for everyone. Let’s take these proposed policies, and take action. Political leaders are right, and need to step up to the plate: contribute to and encourage EdTech companies to produce technological advancements which would narrow the digital gap.