It’s funny how things will categorize themselves in your life. Last week, I had a great dinner with another American. Among the topics of conversation were education and ICTs. We both noted that some people think technology is a way to bridge the gap in schools. Our conversation veered in another direction before I got to note that money spent on technology is not always well spent, but based on the rest of the conversation, I think my friend agrees. I did talk about the much lamented Hazlehurst School District, and how the students there are missing out on so much that even if they all had access to the latest technology in the classroom, it probably wouldn’t make a difference.
The next morning while reading through the news, the New York Times backed up my thinking with this article. In it, they noted how poorer students tended to end up wasting time with technology instead of harnessing the tech to do educational-type things. They mentioned a couple of problems being that the usually working class parents didn’t have enough knowledge to properly manage their children’s online habits. Also, poorer students are more under the influence of the media as they see more of it than their more affluent peers. The article noted,
… “access is not a panacea,” said Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft. “Not only does it not solve problems, it mirrors and magnifies existing problems we’ve been ignoring.”
Later the same day this article appeared in my RSS reader. Here we see technologists and development practitioners pushing technology as a solution. Technology is a solution, but only if you know the question to which it is the answer. The young girl who mentions using her phone to record lectures is a great example. In my experience she is the exception rather than the rule. In the classrooms in which I worked in the developing world, mobiles were used for playing games and listening to music usually during class. Of course this experiences were in middle income countries. Somehow I doubt that makes much difference in the end.
Ultimately development practitioners need to carefully evaluate the claims technologists make. They also should insure that proper education accompanies any technological “gifts.” If the parents aren’t included in technology education, how can they do their jobs as parents? It would be the exact situation these parents in the USA face.