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The digital divide: what is our moral imperative?

As educators we’re often thinking about the strategic, logistical and pedagogical influences and impact of digital technologies on our learners, after all, An active and empowered citizen in a digital age is able to participate in digital environments (Starkey et al., 2017). Understanding children’s use and experience with digital technologies (Victoria University of Wellington, June 2017) P15

And while we come to terms with new outcomes for digital technologies in the Technology curriculum, there are some ethical considerations that can’t be ignored in regards to equity and access. Children’s access and use of computers at home in New Zealand may influence their digital capability and thus their ability to participate in the digital world in the future. Understanding children’s use and experience with digital technologies (Victoria University of Wellington, June 2017) P14

Children's use of digital technologies researchThe research, Understanding children’s use and experience with digital technologies (Victoria University of Wellington, June 2017) undertook;

Semi structured interviews with nearly 70 children across 12 schools from around New Zealand were conducted to help understand how primary school students (9-11 year olds) from various backgrounds use and experience digital technologies in their daily lives. The children were asked to describe what they do online, when they do it, why, what they most enjoy, what they learn, what worries them, and what they wish for but don’t currently have. Our data collection was slightly biased towards regional, rural and high Maori and Pacific population areas because prior research suggested that there was likely to be the greatest deficiencies in access and use in these areas.  

In short summary, an assumption can be made that one device per child is desirable, it is uncommon, especially for those children in lower socio-economic circumstances (including high ratio of Māori and Pasifika). This study showed access to digital devices and the Internet is influenced by home income and home values that in turn affects:

  • Number of devices, systems of sharing where devices were limited
  • Differentiations include a) freedom of access; B) time available which effects embedding of digital experiences.
  • Unreliability of network for learning.

Decile use by children interviewed graph

As well as the child’s school factors (classroom teachers, strategic leadership, accessibility to learning with/through digital technologies), home-based factors have meant that there are inequities, where children from lower decile school homes compete to have access to desirable devices for safe, productive entertainment and learning. Generally it was only in the higher decile schools that children had their own home device. P 33

There are many other valuable findings in this report, but it’s the ethics of equitable access that strikes a chord. If all children have the legislative right to learning, what does this mean; when a school chooses to go BYOD, there is an expectation for school-based learning to continue at home, or for students to share their learning with their parents - when some families just don’t have access to digital devices of the Internet at home?

What is our moral imperative as schools? If there is a digital divide in your communities, how is this being acknowledged or addressed?

Children's use of digital technologies research