ICTs in US Schools: Stratified Access and Polarized Discourse

ICTs in US Schools: Stratified Access and Polarized Discourse

By: Anna Greenstone

In a blog about ICTs in low-income countries, you wouldn’t expect an entry focused on the US.  But in the field of education, many of us recognize that the growing gap between the rich and poor correlates with a gap in quality of schooling.   As ICTs are being incorporated into school programs, the capacities for different districts to
access, purchase and maintain technological resources varies greatly. And often, in under-resourced schools where new technology is scarce, students may also lack access to internet and educational technology in their homes.

A recent piece in the Huffington Post highlights this inequality, featuring an under-resourced school on Chicago’s SouthSide.  Bronzeville Scholastic Institute, is one of three schools housed within DuSable High school, where more than 1000 students share only 24 computers.   As the article further clarifies- the ratio of computer to students is not only horrendous, but insufficient funding for technology creates a digital divide beyond hardware.  “Now, the bar has been raised, as newer software programs require high-speed connections and as WiFi-dependent devices such as iPads make their way into classrooms” .

In the analysis that follows I would like you to keep the digital divide in mind, while I consider another issue.    For those kids who have access to internet and ICTs at home and school, many still face the stigma of being called lazy, or unable to maintain concentration because of incessant technology use.  Because ICTs come in so many different forms, from phones to tablets, to videos and media, kids are often using multiple sources at once.  They are perceived as lacking focus or grounding.  People who jump to these conclusions don’t always consider that skills like multi-tasking, decision-making, and coordination are being developed. This commonly held negative perception is another barrier to the expansion of ICT use in schools, and to re-thinking what we consider as valuable learning.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t! 

While it is clear that youth who don’t have access to ICTs are at a disadvantage to compete with 21st century skills, many parents, schools and policy makers stifle the potential for kids who could have access to be creative and innovative with digital and media technologies (Stevens 2006).  They still believe that too much technology will make their kids dumber, particularily online games and social media that is thought to erode social skills and intellectual growth.  The Notebook, an online publication that acts as a watchdog for the Philadelphia Public Schools, answered these naysayers with an interesting piece in 2011that highlights some of the skills that are developed through digital technologies.   There are also several projects that promote educational digital and media technology, including Digital Is, an initiative of the National Writing Project.

These mediums can be harnessed in classrooms, so that kids can create and program websites or blogs, learning through music and video in addition to traditional text.  Using digital media in student work can be done in small groups, incorporating project based learning models and building collaborative skills among learners.   Even the widely demonized video game, has been shown to improve hand-eye coordination, planning and problem solving skills.  Several open source websites like Gamestar, allow a place where youth don’t only play online games, but create them and share the products with each other.   This work involves logic, design, coding, and strategy.  The open-source nature of the website also nurtures a value for collective success and work—a skill becoming more and more popular in the working styles of leading companies like IBM and Google.

With all these awesome educational digital media initiatives you would think that everyone would get on board.  But I will reiterate that opinions on  the effects of technology on kids remain polarized, and many teachers and student do not support increased usage.  I will leave you with the words of a middle school student “Get Moving; Don’t Get Lazy on Technology”  This critique, oddly enough comes to us from a student journalism project called The Living Textbook, out of Unis Middle School in Michigan.  While the author warns against youth using technology and getting lazy, he has collaborated with his classmates to create an interactive blog, his writing has a global reach through the internet and he is participating in new digital literacy practices.  His opinion of course is his own, and is valid, but it may also be a reflection of the negative discourse that still surrounds kids using technology.  In Naoko’s post, she writes about British school children, tired of traditional computing education.  With all the potential for enjoyable learning through educational digital technologies, I would grow tired typing practice or learning how to print and save documents too!

What about the divide?

How does this relate to the digital divide?  You might be asking “Anna, why did you lead us on this random tangent, just to show us a series of cool educational websites?”  I see these realities as inter-related, and unfortunately, see  eduring skepticism about educational technologies to be yet another hindrance for poor kids in under-resourced schools to gain access.  School boards with stretched budgets might never choose to purchase new hardware, or expand broadband width, if they have more pressing needs and don’t perceive these tools as central to learning.  Our recognition of the myriad ways in which technology can enhance learning for youth lags behind the rapid technological advancements, themselves.  And even less promising, is our ability to tackle inequity in our schools.  As the discourse begins to change and technology enters more and more schools, can we also demand an end to the digital divide?


http://goo.gl/leMzi   “Get Moving, Don’t Get Lazy on Technology” The Living Textbook, student Blog  2/07/2012

http://goo.gl/AZszo  “Education Technology: As Some Schools Plunge In Poor Schools Are Left Behind. ”  Huffington Post   1/25/2012

http://goo.gl/tli7t  Gamestar—Open Source gaming website

http://goo.gl/4FYOw  “Are Kids Really Getting Stupid? A plan of action”                   The Notebook  1/4/2011

http://goo.gl/yaicG  The Living Textbook.  Student Online Journalism project, Unis Middle School.

http://goo.gl/CVun1  Digital Is – A project of the National Writing Project

http://goo.gl/MORrU  National Writing Project

Stevens, L. P. (2006). Reconceptualizing adolescent literacy policy’s role: Productive ambiguity. In D. Alverman et al. Reconceptualizing the literacies in adolescent’s lives, (pp.297-309). NJ: Erlbaum.


Posted on April 18, 2012, in ICTs and Formal Education and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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