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 resources. Equity in simplest terms is about fairness but defining fairness is no simple task. For example, how society values 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 simply 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:
- current resources schools are already receiving (Community Schools, Community Link, International Education, etc.)
- past record of fund raising capacity
- MCFD vulnerability index – students who live in poverty or who are in the care of MCFD
- EDI (early development instrument) and MDI (middle years development instrument) and the related demographic maps
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 better. 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.