Richard Culatta
ISTE IN ACTION: How technology can address equity gaps

In the book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think, authors Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler make the case that opportunity gaps are often not a matter of scarcity of resources, but a matter of access to them.

They predict that exponentially evolving technologies will enable us to make greater gains in closing access gaps over the next two decades than we’ve made in the previous 200 years. 

Nowhere is closing opportunity gaps more needed than in education. Let’s explore three ways we can use technology as a tool to increase access to learning:

Access to learning resources. It’s no surprise that schools with more money can buy updated equipment and newer textbooks, while struggling districts cope with outdated books and learning materials. By tapping into the wealth of knowledge available on the internet, technology can democratize access to high-quality learning materials and even free up funding previously used to pay for textbooks. 

But access to resources goes beyond textbooks. Take, for example, the STEM School Chattanooga in Tennessee. Students there have access to a scanning electron microscope, and not because the school can afford the whopping $1 million price tag.

The school is connected to a gigabit internet network. Since the microscope can be controlled remotely, a team at University of Southern California, connected to the same network, put a high-definition camera on its scanning electron microscope, allowing students to experience science equipment their school could never afford. Technology provided access to learning resources that would otherwise be beyond reach. 

Access to expertise. The geographic location of learners also affects access to learning opportunities. It can be difficult to find advanced math teachers or computer science teachers in rural or inner-city schools. That was the case in Omak, Washington, where an open position for a math teacher languished for five years.

But technology can bridge the expertise gap. Free videoconferencing tools give students access to a world of experts who can beam into their classroom, opening doors to learn from leaders in any field. Online learning programs allow students to be part of a global classroom by participating in courses their geographic location couldn’t otherwise support.

Access to personalized learning. It’s not uncommon for students to experience skills gaps – foundational learning concepts they haven’t mastered. Absences, frequent school transfers or a difficult topic that wasn’t taught well can leave students behind because a critical building block is missing. 

Technology enables personalized learning that can bridge this gap by helping teachers quickly visualize where students need extra support and recommend learning activities based on their individual progress.When learning can be tailored to the needs of each student, those who need help mastering a particular concept are no longer left behind just because other students aren’t struggling with the same gap at the same time.

We have a lot of work to do to eliminate long-standing opportunity gaps in education. Every day, students around the world struggle to overcome geographic and socio-economic barriers, racial and cultural injust-ices, and physical and cognitive disabilities. Technology provides us with a powerful set of tools to increase access to learning opportunities to help close those gaps.

When these tools are wielded by educators who understand their potential, are supported in mastering them and are deeply committed to providing access to all learners, we can begin to overcome a false sense of scarcity and fling open the doors of opportunity.

Richard Culatta is CEO of ISTE.

 

 

 

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