Saturday, November 24, 2012

Equity

There are a lot of imbalances in our world.  The protests last year about the 1% (richest) having and controlling most of the resources was a reflection of how people feel about imbalances in the distribution of resourcesEquity in simplest terms is about fairness but defining fairness is no simple task.  For example, how society Wants Vs Needs - Balancevalues the work people do is directly related to the level of their salaries.  But is the distribution of salaries, fair?  Are famous musicians and singers or athletes really worth the millions they are paid relative to a doctor, teacher, or the person responsible for placing concrete on the bridge you travel over everyday?  Wealth is certainly unevenly distributed and this has been the case it seems since the dawn of time.  I’m thinking a lot about equity right now as it is very apparent it will be an important factor in how I will need to consider appropriate and fair investments in technology for our schools.

I visited an elementary school last Monday in the East end of Vancouver.  I parked my car near the school and as I walked along the school I saw two homeless men waking up under a school overhang roof.  I saw run down apartment complexes nearby.  Inside the school, I visited a classroom and saw very old desks and furnishings.  As I spoke to the staff about technology and various options they might consider to invest in with funds they’ve raised, I talked about BYOD (bring your own device).  One of the teachers said something like “Brian, you need to know that our students all receive breakfast and lunch at school”.  I’ve not encountered this sort of situation in my past experiences.  I said something like “I get it, BYOD might not be viable in all of our schools”.

Our schools are looking to me, to the School District, for help in replacing out-dated technology, to support the change to technology powered learning.  In our District, the neighbourhood demographics have significant range in terms of poverty to super rich.  Families in the richer areas will easily provide laptops, tablets, and handhelds for their kids to use at school, assuming they see clear learning benefits.  However, in the poorer neighbourhoods, many families hope ave and change waysimply struggle to feed and clothe their children.  How we can’t expect them to provide technological learning devices?  I would expect that the poorer schools will generally have more difficulty fund raising for technology as well.  We will have to structure our investments in an equitable manner accounting for the economic differences between neighbourhoods.  However, I don’t believe that equity implies equality.  I do believe in providing a base level of support and perhaps increased support relative to a rating of a school neighbourhood’s socio economic condition.

Thinking out loud, here are some of the criteria that might be reasonable to consider in calculating an equity index for schools:

From this information, a weighted (percentage) allocation of technology funds for elementary and secondary schools relative to their financial need could be developed consistent with an equitable distribution.  I also believe strongly in commitments.  Funds invested in technology should be done so in conjunction with principals and teachers committing to regular professional learning with an aim to change practice.  Technology all through history has resulted in changes in how we do things with the goal being the new practice is iStock_000017128753XSmallbetter.  For example when the printing press was invented, eventually knowledge spread like wildfire – previously it was under the control of the few.  Adding technology to a classroom or as a tool for students without changing how teaching and learning occurs is a waste of money and a frustrating experience.  Perhaps part of the equity formula should include commitments to participate in professional learning related to integrating education technology?

With a limited resource (money) and an insatiable need for technology, equity is a critically important aspect of any plan for technology in schools.  I would appreciate your thoughts on how equity could be defined and calculated for schools in the context of technology investments.

4 comments:

  1. Equity is giving people what they need and equality is giving everyone the same thing and those are, well, not the same thing as you say.

    That means you--really all of us in education-- have to look carefully at what our students need and what they need is not more technology, but more good pedagogy that exploits technology. That equity gap is wider that we think--I've seen enough schools where a laptop is used like a $1500 pencil. And conversely, I've seen brilliant work with just a couple of iPod touches.

    Whatever tool you come up with to measure funding needs it needs to include some way to gauge the need for developing new pedagogy--a soft cost but arguably the more important cost.

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    1. Hi Brad, I agree that practice needs to change for technology to fullfil its promise. Simply adding more or new technology without a change in practice, won't make a difference for kids. Coming up with a metric to gauge readiness would be difficult but I think including a commitment to change might be possible - will have to carefully navigate that one.

      Thanks for adding your thoughts here.
      Brian

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  2. Hi Brian, what a tough situation to navigate in the context of "have" and "have not" communities. The BYOD approach absolutely has its merits, but in a school situation as you encountered in the east end of Vancouver, does the strategy fit the need?

    The influx of new and exciting technology tools should give the teachers and students a fresh breath of possibility and interest - as long as it is indeed coupled with strong professional development and sound pedagogy.

    These technology tools represent today's world and students that find themselves on the outside looking in - on this respect too - may only become further disenfranchised and even disengaged. It is our responsibility to expose them to these learning vehicles in hopes that they will connect and thrive in an engaged, enlightened world.

    Perhaps schools such as this warrant more technology funding and per student $ ratio to begin this journey; whereas other (more affluent) communities could become sounding boards for BYOD/BYOT initiatives? What do you think? Does this equate with equity?

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    1. Hi Neil. I don't see BYOD being a reality in our poorer neighborhoods. Your observation I your last paragraph is likely a factor in an equity "formula". I see equity driving an uneven model of investment, not an equal one. A per student funding factor is easy to create but not necessarily the most equitable. The other challenge is recognizing too much fund raising or home financial advantage as it could frustrate those communities as they may view it as unfair use of public funds. It will be tricky to figure out for sure.

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