Chief Membership and Partnership Officer, International Society for Technology in Education
A decade ago, our country began talking about ensuring students and teachers had access to technology in school. Around that time, the discussion was about providing internet connectivity for all.
We’ve made significant progress when it comes to school connectivity. Just five years ago, only about 15 percent of U.S. classrooms had access to the internet. Today, nearly all classrooms are connected to broadband Wi-Fi. All students, and especially students from historically marginalized backgrounds, deserve access to technology as an essential accelerating force in their education, growth, and lived experiences.
But as the adage goes, “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
Equity is more than just access. Students need to be empowered to leverage technology in meaningful ways.
This summer, I had the privilege of interviewing the leaders of Teens Take Charge, a student-led movement that amplifies student voice in New York City’s education system. Along with their organizing skills, courage and direct action, I was struck by the way they knew how to use technology as a critical tool in the fight for equity and school integration.
From organizing rallies with hundreds of students overnight to amplifying their city hall testimonies on social media, these high school students have learned that technology is a powerful tool for change and digital citizenship in action.
It’s time to champion full digital equity for all students, at home and in community spaces.
This happens by ensuring the focus moving forward goes beyond access to technology, to being certain that all students learn how to use it effectively — not to passively receive information, but to actively design the future. From harnessing artificial intelligence and computational thinking, to using technology to spark positive change, all kids need opportunity, access, and support to solve tough problems and create change.
Putting it into practice
Like most systems-level change, effective use of technology won’t just happen on its own. We need to teach it. The very technology that holds such promise to dramatically reduce long-standing gaps and inequities in education also has the power to exacerbate them, if not used appropriately.
The multibillion-dollar investment we’ve made in school connectivity brings with it the potential to improve opportunities for all students in a way that nothing else has before, but only if we work with and for students, educators, families, and communities to change the game.
Fortunately, there are guideposts available to help us navigate the next part of this journey. Programs like DigCitCommit.org outline key competencies that students need to learn in order to use technology in an effective and responsible way. The internationally-recognized ISTE Standards for Students and Educators provide a pathway for schools to follow when moving beyond cables and wires, to fully engaging and activating students through technology.
So before we claim victory over school connectivity, let’s make sure we do the work that will actually yield the return on investment that we had hoped for — delivering on the promise of equitable access to the resources and skills for students to thrive in today’s classrooms, and tomorrow’s workforce.
Rhonda Ford, Chief Membership and Partnership Officer, International Society for Technology in Education, [email protected]