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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Education progression relies on technology

If you’re reading this, chances are you are educated and come from a relatively well off family. Maybe you are reading this on a phone or tablet that you own. It is also very likely that this access to technology and the learned ability to effectively wield its power gives you a better chance to be economically successful, politically acute and socially adept.  

Today’s technology is simultaneously ubiquitous and obscure. It is  fundamental to the very fabric of our 21st century lives, yet overlooked and taken for granted. At least by those with access to it. But what happens when effective use of technology, and all its power to enable and transform, bypasses already disadvantaged communities? What happens when a huge proportion of Americans enters the increasingly competitive global work force with a second-tier ability to navigate in a digital world? 

The term “digital divide” has taken on a new meaning in the last decade, as now nearly every American who wants to, can obtain access to countless information and communication technologies. Now, the digital divide refers to critical differences in how individuals access, navigate and benefit from them. And these differences are extensive. 

At Milwaukee’s Bay View public high school, some of the teachers don’t even know how to use email, and certainly don’t know how to teach students Excel or various internet research techniques. However,  just a few miles away, at the smaller Whitnall High School, there are three staff members dedicated to teaching important technology applications. And every student has access to an iPad. 

However, from a political and economic climate that has the left emboldened by and the right grappling with the realities of growing inequality, as well as concerns from both sides about the rise of emerging countries, an essential question is finally, if insufficiently, being acknowledged: How can we make sure every American learns and uses technologies to maximize worth individually, and grow our economy collectively?

There are some policy pushes  currently under way designed to combat the problem. In his 2014 State of the Union, President Barack Obama laid out a public-private joint initiative to increase Internet access and broadband speed in America’s public  schools. Also, in his recently proposed 2015 budget, the administration outlined ‘ConnectEDucators’ grants designed to “leverage technology” to increase student learning and achievement. 

While some may argue technology education should be low on the list of concerns for poor schools in troubled neighborhoods, I would argue that a respectable, paying job is perhaps the most important catalyst for family and community development. An education designed to provide the skills to get that job is, then, imperative.

While the recent developments are similar to previous (and for the most part unsuccessful) efforts to increase funding and enthusiasm for STEM subjects, they are different in the fact that basic technological literacy is now starting to be seen as essential across all disciplines—as fundamental to creating someone equipped with the human capital to succeed in today’s world is. It’s no longer only the future engineers and scientists who need to be digitally literate. For previous generations, being a computer “whiz” was an advantage. For future generations, not being computer “whiz” will be an enormous disadvantage. 

However, while Obama’s intentions are good, his budget proposal is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives, and to what extent the federal government will influence technology’s role in the classroom remains unclear. Even if passed, there are certainly roadblocks that remain with regard to efficiently and effectively distributing the new resources. While some states have statewide technology education infrastructure already in place, many others do not. Wisconsin, for instance, has no such administrative structure, and funding for teaching education is largely decided at the district level. This means massive disparities. 

While there is little doubt my plea will fall deaf on Congressional Republicans’ ears, here it goes. Pass funding to increase technology and digital education in the classroom. 

Not all hope is lost, though. While many public schools struggle to keep up with the times, private and charter schools around the country have answered the call to advance (as they tend to do). Many are creating programs, and even entire curriculums, devoted to teaching advanced technology. The push by Obama and others for increased enrollment in technical colleges is part of the same trend: Supply students with skills the economy demands. 

There are other encouraging signs that awareness is growing, too. Locally, Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, just introduced a plan to provide free or low cost high-speed Internet in the city’s low-income housing. Project: Community Computers is another local group making a difference. The Milwaukee based non-profit refurbishes donated computers and sets up computer labs at schools and through other non-profits serving at-risk communities. Their labs and partner organizations help the jobless create resumes and find employment, teach essential computer skills employers demand. Additionally, they  provide countless services most of us take for granted. 

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But real changes will only come to fruition if these efforts continue, and policy makers at the highest level wake up to the call. 

Bridging the “new digital divide” shouldn’t be an insurmountable political issue. Instead, it should be about re-framing and reforming our educational pedagogy, positioning technological literacy as a way to combat growing inequality and provide an American economy with a workforce equipped to compete. 

Will 21st century technologies be an enabler of socioeconomic mobility or a force that will exacerbate inequalities? Will a technologically literate populace continue to be the mainstay of the world’s economic power, or will the lack of it be the vulnerability that caused America to fall behind? The choice is ours.

Do you agree with Tyler’s ideas on technological access expansion? Is this expansion necessary for the United States to compete in the global economy? Please send all of your feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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