It’s a scary headline:
Educational Technology Isn’t Leveling the Playing Field
In fact, it’s making achievement gaps even bigger.
The study that Annie Murphy Paul describes is pretty sobering as well. Two professors observed childrens’ computer use at two Philadelphia area public libraries, both equipped with new technology. In the affluent neighborhood, students are more likely to play educational computer games. In the lower-income area, only 9% of the tween library patrons used the computers for homework and research purposes, compared to 39% of the preteens in the wealthier area.
It’s not the technology itself. Technology is just a thing. How it is deployed, however, makes a world of difference, obviously. In this instance, the difference comes in the instruction, assistance, and direction that children receive from adults around them. Kids in the rich library (for lack of a better phrase) got 17 times more adult attention than those in the poor library. Parents encouraged children to keep trying, to play a phonics game, to do their homework — they supervised and guided the computer use, in other words, in the well-to-do part of town. In the other library, “older children figured out how to use the programs as games; younger children became discouraged and banged on the keyboard or wandered away” (Paul).
You can see the two versions of adult involvement in the photo below, where three people are gathered around the child on the left while all children on the right are by themselves as a father, perhaps, looks on from a distance.
What children need instead is what is pictured below: an adult right there, engaging in the technology with the younger users.
So the Great Divider is adult attention….
…wouldn’t it be great if local high school students, whether the Key Club or a future teacher group, or even university students in an educational honor society banded together to volunteer at their neighborhood library every afternoon to be available in the children’s computer area?
Such “computer buddies” could provide the gentle nudges towards effective technology use. They could teach children to use a mouse, to look up information about what they studied in school that day, to find a biography of the author of the book they are checking out, or to paint an electronic picture with free drawing tools.
We talk a lot about the need for volunteers in our schools. Maybe they are needed even more in our libraries.