Will technology solve education inequality?

Child using a laptop - educational equality
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As Harvard analyst, Deval Patrick, truthfully pointed out once: “When there’s inequity in learning, it’s usually baked into life.”

The quality of education (opens in new tab) we receive as children and young adults directly impacts the quality of life we enjoy later. A good education allows us to work, develop and ultimately live a more secure and happier life. Receiving an inadequate education, on the other hand, can significantly hinder our personal development.

About the author

Hugo Aguirre is the development and education director of TBox (opens in new tab).

Luckily, there is a critical motor helping to equalize education quality, and it's called technology. The truth is that the positive impact of technology on educational quality depends on schools and educators understanding the digital divide and using that knowledge to bridge it. Let's dig a little deeper and find out when and why technology is helpful in teaching and learning (opens in new tab).

Factors contributing to unequal education

At the macro level, the quality of education depends on many factors. Public education policy, unavailable resources, and the general level of education, including teacher training, are at the top of the list. However, if the inequality of a community is also reflected in its education system, technology alone will not bring about change. In an unequal society, technological developments and the use of advanced tools by a limited number of people will eventually increase inequalities.

If we look at the differences between individual schools in the same district, there are also several conditions that influence education. Let’s take an example of the US, where the different pedagogical offerings vary across schools. Some schools lack the necessary technical infrastructure. Furthermore, the quality of libraries and access to various computer programs can change from institution to institution. In most cases, the more limited the access to modern learning methods, technological programs, and materials, the lower the quality of education.

At the student level, the involvement of an educational community and family also affects education. Whether a child grows up in a motivating environment that supports learning processes and provides technological tools to foster learning will influence the child’s individual progress.

Finally, teachers are critical to balance inequalities among children in school. Education depends first and foremost on the learning methods teachers use and how those encourage students to self-study. It also makes a difference whether teachers can give each child the support they need.

How technology can decrease disparity

While technology is not a panacea, technological tools positively impact education at schools and can support both learners and educators when used correctly. Technologies provide personal and private access to educational materials and enable more memorable and varied learning experiences. Not to mention: Being able to use a number of technologies is a skill itself.

Technology as a teaching instrument

Services such as animation (opens in new tab), 3D printing (opens in new tab), robotics, and learning applications provide access to a whole new universe of educational material. With the help of such software, educators can enable multi-faceted learning experiences, strengthen children's curiosity, and foster their ability to learn independently.

When school content is theoretical and abstract, educators can give students access to video materials, colorful interactive graphics, and educational apps (opens in new tab). Tools like robots attract attention and make complex concepts easier to understand. Using learning platforms such as Google Classroom allows children to follow their learning paths and seek additional materials to understand the content better. This material can compensate for the possible lack of support from teachers, peers, or family members.

Technology improves students’ individual learning experiences

Technology can make learning fun by using it in creative ways to enhance learning experiences. Google Meet and other digital meeting tools enable students from around the world to connect. For example, schools can design language classes as digital bilingual exchanges between students. Classes covering culture and history allow for virtual museum tours in the student's country. This sparks students' interest and creates a learning environment that motivates each student to continue learning.

Personalized learning reduces differences between individual students

Modern tools help address the knowledge gaps between children and young adults on an individual basis. By continuously collecting data, data-driven applications enable individualized and personalized education forms.

Educators can assess each individual’s learning stage if they have access to data on children's progress when using apps and software tools. By tracking the learning path, they can determine what areas students are struggling with and whether their progress is commensurate with the time and effort spent.

Technology to facilitate active learning methodologies

Finally, technology enables active teaching methods that improve the overall quality of education. Active strategies are teaching ways that engage students in the subject matter through discussions, problem-solving, case studies, role plays, and other methods. Instead of receiving teacher-frontal classes, learners access tools that help them research problems, develop solutions, simulate circumstances, and design prototypes. These methods encourage using tools such as presentation software (opens in new tab), video editing (opens in new tab), infographics, and animation. By using them daily, students become proficient, already developing the most relevant skills for future jobs—as any job will require the use of software, machines, or applications at one point.

An excellent example of a comprehensive learning project is high school students organizing a fundraiser dinner at their school. They have to design flyers and distribute them digitally, research how to write invitations, put together recipes, and calculate budgets using spreadsheets. Finally, the students will cook and execute the event in person and connect all the learning experiences.

Exemplary methodologies are Problem-based learning, the STEAM method, and flipped classroom. Such student-focused classes trigger a student’s motivation to learn, their ability to self-learn, and accelerates learning speed and quality. According to Dale’s Cone of Experience, students remember 35% of what they see, but 90% of what they do when completing a task in practice.

Technology as an instrument to train teachers

A teacher's job is to constantly improve the quality of their teaching and adapt to new methods, modern tools, and up-to-date knowledge. With the help of data, educators can gain insights into student learning. Using digital conferencing tools like Google Meet can facilitate their professional development and provide better access to courses, materials, and workshops.

What the future holds

As a response to remote learning, schools and authorities worldwide have understood the necessity of providing students with tools that enable distance learning, virtual class, and digital access to learning resources.

Educators have gained immense interest in integrating technology to improve teaching and educational equity. We are in the process of building a culture of change, better understanding the issues we face, and figuring out what tools can help us create equality.

However, the danger is to fall into the trap of believing technology will solve education disparity by its sheer existence. The underlying methodology of why education is necessary and what improves its quality is vital. Meanwhile, technology is the most potent, available instrument that can help strengthen the quality of education.

Hugo Aguirre is the development and education director of TBox. He coordinates innovation projects in educational platforms and designs didactic materials for technological training for K-12 students and teachers.