Educational Inequality Will Change with the Rise of Digital Learning
The implementation of technology in students’ day-to-day classroom has vastly increased since their parents attended school, and its demand will continue growing on this exponential track. Nearly every student uses a phone, school computer, and class projector for each subject. However, schools are likely to require even more technology as education becomes more internet-dependent, particularly where students are required to learn remotely.
One of the most explicit existing disparities between schools is whether they provide personal devices for each of their students. Though nearly every school now requires students to own personal computers for homework purposes, many go as far as to provide each student their own computer or tablet. Many elementary schoolers even get sent home with Kindle Fires or some variation of an e-learning tablet. This trend is likely to become a uniformity at some point in the near future, as students from families unable to afford their own devices cannot simply be left behind from their educational requirements. As each school struggles to allocate funds for providing these laptops, the great inequalities between these schools will only magnify. While some students will have state-of-the-art, brand new computers at their personal disposal, others will use donated, second hand laptops to fulfill their curricula, or perhaps have no device at all.
Beyond just personal computers, burgeoning technology is ceaselessly overwhelming the education markets. Nearly every textbook example of classroom tools has been digitized — including textbooks themselves. In most high income or private schools today, textbooks seem to be a thing of the past. Online textbooks, accessible on tablets or laptops, can be found for every course. Rather than the standard projector, schools far prefer interactive projected displays. In place of whiteboards are Smartboards, with typical classroom models being sold upwards of $2,000. Very soon, tables are likely to be replaced by variations of the Smartboard’s cousin, the Smart Table, and the world will watch as every element of the classroom becomes digitized.
While more and more schools transition to permanent solutions for remote learning, as many have already announced they do not plan to open up their campuses in the fall, the market widens for expensive technology to take over local school budgets. And while these electronic devices will be a lifesaver for those in districts who are able to afford it, what happens to those who are not? In large part due to this recent pandemic, schools are forced to leap forwards to the future of learning, and many of their budgets cannot keep up with this pace. So for students in school districts that cannot afford to provide personal devices at the moment, whose families do not own computers and cannot afford high speed internet, their future education seems to remain up in the air.
The question is not simply is technology a classroom essential — as in modern day learning, technology simply is essential — but to what extent will this increased need for technology widen the educational disparity between high income and low income school districts. In spite of legislative efforts from most state governments to redistribute education funds, the majority low income institutions continue struggling to provide school-owned computers for an entire classroom, not even able to consider sending every student home with their own personal device. There is no doubt that many plans for this new model of education will come forward from local and federal governments alike, but disparities in education have existed for all of time and seem to inevitably widen as new resources become available. Technology is an essential learning tool — a fact everyone must now come to terms with. The question of how each school approaches the new demands of learning — and what this will do to existing educational inequalities — remains unseen, but it demands an answer more so now than ever before.