Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pervasive Inequality

I find it rather surprising how much I did not learn about important aspects of history during my stint in the K12 education system as a student.  Was it taught and I tuned out or is it a challenge of too much history, what do kids need to know?  I’ve listened to two ear opening audio books recently, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World and Civilization: The West and the Rest both written by Niall Ferguson.  In many ways, these books expound dark truths about our past.  The abuse of peoples, the creation of vast inequities are the story of our past which were essentially driven by greed, power, and fanaticism.  Our past is rife with conquest, enslavement, murder, starvation, etc. and the love of money is clearlyiStock_000023558527Medium at the core.  We continue to strive today against inequities and inequalities but I wonder sometimes if this is a losing battle.  The civilizations and systems we live in and with are still stacked against the many and favor the few.  The relative prosperity and high standard of living many of us have grown up with as baby boomers and subsequent generations, is highly unusual.  It is also apparently in decline.  Take the economic meltdown of 2008 – we haven’t seen the end of this yet.  Countries and their people are on life support – we’re simply temporarily insolated from the impact of massive debt loads.  Even in the “wealthy” USA, there are 1.5M households living on less than $2 per day (Wikipedia May 4, 2013)! “During the Age of Reason, Francis Bacon wrote ‘Above all things good policy is to be used so that the treasures and monies in a state be not gathered into a few hands... Money is like muck, not good except it be spread.’” (Wikipedia May 4, 2013). 

Today in a British Columbia there seem to be a lot of competing interests and entitlement minded people.  Our politics are polarized by this.  Politicians promise what they think people want, costing large sums of money, without being clear about how they will pay for it.  People want more / better health care, better transportation, cleaner environments, and want to be paid higher but they don’t want gas pipelines, business development, or higher taxes.  They want the “government” to pay for it.  I suppose they don’t realize that would be themselves… Inequality persists in this complex society.  On a global scale, people are dying every 3 1/2 seconds due to extreme poverty.  This should concern us.  Zooming in on a BC Wants Vs Needs - Balanceschool system, my eyes are opened every week to the inequities in the Vancouver area.  We have schools where most families are unable to feed their kids consistently and schools where many kids drive fancy sports cars.  How, in a system of pervasive inequality do we provide a technology infused equitable education?

I truly believe that access to information, knowledge, and people around the world is an essential ingredient for a society and its education system. The Internet has developed into a sort of global mind.

We have already largely outsourced our historical, intellectual, social, and personal memories to our devices and the cloud. Kurzweil, Ray (2012-11-13). How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (p. 246).

We might be shocked how much of who we are is now inseparable from the tools we use on the Internet.  Our memories are stored in digital calendars, notes, blog posts, tweets, Facebook or Google + posts, pins on Pinterest, and emails, to name a few.  The people we know and learn from increasingly don’t live anywhere near us.  We become smarter and more capable through these connections and tools.  But, pervasive inequality exists in this new world.  How can we call our education system “modern”, equitable, one that serves the needs of all kids and families, and allow access to modern tools with sufficient bandwidth to be unevenly distributed?  How can we continue to not invest adequately in ensuring our teachers and school leaders have the skills and knowledge to use technology, teach its use, and enable students learning in critical new ways?  In my travels to schools I see pockets of technology infused learning, but it is highly unevenly distributed.  There is a lot of money poured into K12 education in BC every year.  Yet, there isn’t enough to address today’s inequities of access, skills, and knowledge that persist with technology.  We must remove barriers.  It increasingly bothers me when people so easily relegate the use of technology for learning to “just a tool”, “a support to learning”, or worse “unnecessary”.  Technology and learning today should be are inseparable.  We accept so much less when we “force” students to write or draw on paper where their words are trapped and at best appreciate by their teacher.  When ideas and thoughts are stored in digital mediums iStock_000008585896XSmallthey are free to be shared, mixed, mashed-up, learned from, and re-used.

It may be a pipe dream but I would like to figure out how to eliminate pervasive inequality (with respect to access to technology in education) - it is becoming somewhat of a mission for me.  I want us to remove barriers such that teachers and students experience a diverse technology infused learning journey.  For our kids to live successfully in this ever increasingly complex world, technology needs to be baked into their learning pathway through our schools.  People need to learn to let go of their own notions of entitlement and help our systems direct resources to investing in our kids futures.  In fact our kids futures are our futures.