Technology and education have become inseparable in developed Western countries. However, technological resources are not distributed equally within society; this is known as the digital divide. Thus, the critical issue I am examining will focus on the effect of the digital divide on students who have migrated to Australia. Since completing the Critical Reflection as part of assignment one, I have gained employment at a school in a low socioeconomic area of Melbourne with a large Afghani population. Therefore, I will draw on some statistics from Afghanistan in my research.
The Digital Divide examines the way technological resources are unequally distributed within society. As a general rule, demographics tend to dictate where technology can be easily found; this includes racial factors, socioeconomic status and family structure (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). Peoples disenfranchised from dominant Western culture historically are the same people currently being effected by the digital divide (Gorski, 2003). Furthermore, Rye argues that the current digital divide heightens the uneven distribution of wealth, prosperity and well-being (2008).
The ‘Falling through the Net’ survey conducted by the American National Telecommunication and Information Administration body reported, “access to the new digital technology tends to favor male, educated, wealthy, white, young, urban dwellers” (Rye, 2008, pp 172). Schools in white suburban areas are more likely to utalise application packages and software programs that foster higher order thinking skills than their lower income, minority background counterparts (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). Thus, the implications for those on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide are necessary to examine, especially in terms of migrant education.
Students on the disadvantaged side of the digital divide are much less likely to have access to technology at home, which can have wide reaching ramifications. These students are less likely to complete assignments using programs such as word, or engage with software applications. Migrant children who have come from countries were they have limited access to technology can have difficulties adjusting to computer-rich learning (Kalyanpur & Kirmanu, 2005). These students, due to their reduced exposure to technology, are at risk of remaining unaware of the power and complexity that lies within our technology rich society. Students become excluded from the wealth that can be afforded by technical knowledge with social, cultural and economic consequences. The inability to develop the skills required to deal with the digitalization of modern, Western society can inhibit students from developing the skills to become confident navigators of technology (Korrup, 2005). Thus, the digital divide widens and perpetuates.
Adding to the complexity of this issue is the wider cultural beliefs and social beliefs held by those who have been disadvantaged by the digital divide. Kalyanpur & Kirmani examined non-white racial groups in America and their attitudes towards technology. Technology was perceived as ‘only for brainy people’, a middle class thing and neither relevant or interesting (2005).
Education has been one of the greatest casualties of the recent turbulence within Afghanistan. In 1980, 11% of people 25 years or over had received formal education. By 1996, approximately 22% of children were studying in formal schools, with very few females among them (de Silvia, Valsangkar & Khattab, 2014). These are the potential parents and caregivers of the current generation of migrants in Australia. The question therefore posed is; if you have not been encouraged towards education, does technology seem irrelevant? Perhaps having never been afforded the opportunity to engage meaningfully with technology has inhibited parents’ ability to support technology in the home, much like the women abused in Indigenous girl’s boarding schools who have difficulty supporting their children’s educational institutions.
There have been efforts to bridge the digital divide, though sometimes misinformed. Simply giving computers to people with limited or no prior exposure to technology, serves little purpose. Such patriarchal attitudes are simplistic and hollow (Korrup, 2005). This does not take into account social, cultural, political and economic systems of power that have caused the digital divide (Gorski, 2003). Considering the current geopolitical climate, especially in the Middle East, the need for a dynamic approach that responds to increases in migration is essential.
Some positive trends have been observed, which could have implications for classroom and school-wide technology initiatives. Training parents and teachers together, involving parents in the school and keeping them informed about the possibilities of technology can help foster positive attitudes towards technology. This can increase the chance of families investing in a home computer because they understand their relevance, and the fear of technology is reduced (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). A study completed in Afghanistan, focusing on educating parents using mobile technology, observed that the people approached to be participants were initially skeptical. However, by the time they had completed program, all participants said they would participate in a similar program again (Shahnaz, George, Son, Shabnam, Habib, Schroeder & Karim, 2014). Surely, if students are receiving positive encouragement at home as well as school, they will develop their skills at an accelerated rate.
Multilliteracies is one approach that can equip students with the skills they need to respond to our increasingly digital education system. Multiliteracies is a word that explains the need for the expansion of literacy pedagogy beyond traditional literacy. It argues against one idea of literacy, towards a more pluralist and inclusive concept of study worthy material (Mills, 2005). Encouraging students to become multiliterate is the first step towards students being able to use technology efficiently and communicate electronically and clearly. Students need to become multiliterate in order to be able to critically evaluate multimodal information (Butt, Fahey, Feez, Spinks & Yallop, 2000). Unsworth & Bush who base their recommendations on experience working at a school in Sydney where 92% of students were EAL students, advocate for modeled, guided then individual practice (2010).
Being mindful of the cultural heritage of our students enhances their comfort levels and makes them feel accepted within the education system. The cultural heritage model of education argues against a monocultural view of education (Sawyer & Mcfarlane, 2000). This approach, like multilieracies, lends itself towards widening the range of texts we present our students with in an effort to give legitimacy to voices other than those expressed by dominant culture. Building inclusive environments means students are more likely to take risks with their learning (Vale, 2009).
Finally, approaching language learning through the discourse analysis approach can provide students with a flexible environment in which to learn language structures. Discourse analysis approaches also advocate more flexible learning materials. This approach focuses on analyzing texts as a whole with particular emphasis on the social context in which the text was constructed, and the broader cultural context. Thus, discourse analysts focus primarily on the meaning being made, rather than the implementation of traditional English conventions (Unknown). Through this approach, we are once again steered away from projecting hegemonic ideology through education, and moving towards a language approach that promotes authentic learning.
If multiliteracies, Cultural Heritage and Discourse Analysis approaches are combined and implemented as core strategies within the classroom, teachers and students can work together to help bridge the digital divide. Slowly, but surely, positive applications of inclusive language learning, well planned and executed teaching of technology, alongside consorted efforts foster positive attitudes towards digital literacy in the home and at school, will have positive ramifications for migrant students in Australia.
This is therefore the reason I chose to examine the digital divide. Reflecting on Brookfield’s (2009) idea of Critical Inquiry I felt it was necessary to examine whether or not my own current teaching context supports the authentic and relevant acquisition of EAL language skills.
Through my collection of evidence I was hoping to gauge any differences in access to technology across the two groups, and also compare the clarity with which they communicate their ideas using technology.
Presentation of evidence
Using Edmodo I gave the same quiz to two year 7 classes; class A, a mainstream English class, and class B, a year 7 EAL class. Questions were as follows:
How old were you when you first used a computer?
Do your have access to a computer at home?
If you do have access to a computer, how old were you when you had your first home computer?
Do you have Internet access at home?
If you do have Internet access at home, how old were you when you first got Internet?
Do your parents/caregivers know how to use a computer?
Have you ever sent an email before?
Do you know how to search the web?
Do you feel you have been properly taught how to use computers to help your education?
How comfortable are you with using technology?
Class A were then asked to complete the following activity:
Once you have completed the Digital literacy quiz, you need to do one more task.
– Write an email that informs me about the hardest thing you have noticed adjusting (getting used to) high school. In particular, whether or not you found it hard to adjust to the use of technology in the classroom.
– Send it to email@example.com
Class B were asked to complete the following activity:
Once you have finished the quiz, you have one more task to complete.
– You need to write an email that explains the hardest things about getting used to school in Australia OR getting used to high school. In particular, any problems you might have had, or still have, getting used to the technology used in school.
– Once you have finished this, email your answer to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Results, class A
|Question 1||Question 2||Question 3||Question 4||Question 5|
|Average age = 5.7||Yes = 17
No = 1
|Not sure = 3
Average age of remaining 15 =
|Yes = 17
No = 1
|Not sure = 5
Average age of remaining 13 =
|Question 6||Question 7||Question 8||Question 9||Question 10|
|Yes = 16
No = 2
|Yes = 13
No = 5
|Yes = 17
No = 1
|Yes = 14
No = 3
Unsure = 1
|Very = 14
Yes = 3
Not very = 1
Part two (general comment)
Responses to how students felt about technology were overwhelmingly positive. No students noted that adjusting to the use of technology in high school was difficult. Many took the opportunity to comment on the unwelcomed increase of homework.
Sample written responses
Profile – Student 1 is one of the brighter students in the class and ranks approximately in the top quarter of the class.
“when the word technology comes to my ear i straight away know everything to do with it. Ive always been good at using technology as I have contributed in many activities and group tasks in year 6. In year 6 i have contributed in things like the ICT program which is a group of chosen students that have been taken in to participate in helping younger levels in the school with technology issues or if they don’t know how to use the internet/technology. I also participated in making the year 6 graduation video which was very hard to accomplish as we did many things to do with technology like applications & the go pro and converting it to the laptops. Overall i think im good at technology as i have had much experience to do with it.”
Profile – Student 2 is amongst the lowest performers in regards to overall literacy and written expression.
”Dear Miss Worth,
during the school years i have not had one mistake or problem while using technology at school, i find it easy for me to use certain technology at school. Although there may be challenging things while i’m using certain technology.
Profile – student 3 is in the lowest quarter of the class. He is one of the students who marked ‘No’ to question 6, and ‘No’ to question 9.
“The hardest thing I notice adjusting about High School is that we get A LOT of homework, we get generally get homework everyday at School.
I find it quite easy to use technology in the classroom.”
Profile – student 4 is one of the highest performers in the class.
“It was pretty easy to use a computer in high school because I practically used a computer from the moment I started school. The hardest thing for me about high school is all the stress about the homework given to us and it sort of concerns my parents about getting homework everyday which we do. It is also very hard for me to carry around the laptop and my textbooks and exercise books at the same time. From ——- ——– 7H“
Results, class B
|Question 1||Question 2||Question 3||Question 4||Question 5|
|Average age = 7.9||Yes = 6
No = 2
|Not sure = 1
Average age of remaining 7 = 8.7
|Yes = 8
No = 0
|Not sure = 1
Average age of remaining 7 = 9.2
|Question 6||Question 7||Question 8||Question 9||Question 10|
|Yes = 4
No = 4
|Yes = 5
No = 3
|Yes = 8
No = 0
|Yes = 7
No = 1
|Very = 2
Yes = 4
Not very = 2
Part two (general comment)
Overall, the 8 responses I got were smaller. Only one student knew how to send an email from their school account, other messages were sent via Edmodo. There was mention of the difficulties with homework in this group, though they were not as frequent.
Profile – student 5 is average in terms of literacy in the EAL class. She is an Afghani refugee who came to Australia a year and a half ago. This student answered ‘No’ to question 9, and responded with
“no I’m still not allowed to use like Facebook or other things but I still use it for sing up and everything but I haven’t email anything”
Student 5’s response:
“the difficult things in high school is when you get a lot of homework its actually really hard. I always struggle when we do a test I still like the assignments its alright the problem I’ve got is that when we have to sign up for a website or other things.”
Profile – student 7 is also a refugee from Afghanistan who has been in Australia for three years.
“the difficulties in high school is usually assignments and essays but now that I have a laptop I can do all of the essay’s and assignments but the problem I have now is getting a little bit use to laptops because I hardly ever got a laptop.”
Profile – student 8 is also from Afghanistan, and an average student academically.
“the hardest thing for me was not being able to see my family when I wanted to and school was a disaster because ei couldent understand at all! and tech is preety easy.”
Profile – student 9 was the only student in this group that was able to send me an emailed response. She is one of the brighter girls in the class.
“I think that high school was really scary for me when I first stated but now I feel good and like this high school.
I like all of the teacher here and all my friends and here even the homework is fun to do and its easy.”
Analysis of results
The results of the edmodo quiz were as expected, with a few exceptions. The real differences between the classes became apparent during the second part of the task. It is necessary to note however, that if I had been able to compare the year 7 EAL class at my school and a year 7 mainstream class at a school in a more affluent area, results might have been quite different. This evidence is more accurately described as analysis between migrant and non-migrant students who, to varying degrees, all suffer from being disadvantaged by the digital divide.
For both question 3 and 5, whereby students were asked to note their ages respectively about when they got a home computer and when they got home Internet, the aggregate ages of group A participants were higher. To be honest, I was expecting a larger gap. Some students in Group B did note that they had computers in their home country, but they didn’t know how to use them. Some students in Group A noted that their parents had only recently been able to afford the internet. Thus, reinforcing that this is a comparison of students within the digital divide.
Interestingly, most students from Group A noted their parents could use technology, while only half of the students from Group B said their parents were able to use technology. This clear difference is presumably a result of most migrants having recently emigrated from a country with little infrastructure. This is a disparity that will be a key part of the action plan.
While there was a slight amount of disparity between groups in relation to the final two questions. I felt it was interesting both groups were reasonably confident about their ICT educational needs being met and their ability to use computers. However, only one student from Group B was able to actually send me an email, and their written responses were not as clear (although neither group seemed overly worried about grammar). Perhaps there is a disparity between perceived ability and actual ability.
What did arise, which I had not accounted for, was Group B’s overwhelmingly positive attitude towards school in general. Group A did have some positive things to say about school, but the most common theme that ran through their written responses was their disapproval of the increase of homework, harder subjects and more things to carry. Alternatively, Group B noted without prompting the lack of bullying in school which seemed to be taken for granted in Group A and were generally positive about school; student 8 even noted that she liked the homework and the teachers were her ‘friends’.
There was disparity between the groups, most notably how clearly they were able to communicate difficulties they faced. Even student 2, one of the lowest performing students from Group A, conformed to email conventions. Groups A’s prose as a whole was less confusing, they had clearer sentence structures and were able to organise their ideas more logically. This is another key aspect that will be addressed as part of the action plan as we work towards ensuring they are able to communicate clearly even if they do not understand traditional English language conventions.
Thorne argues that schools have been implicit in further disenfranchising people who have already been disadvantaged by society (2005). If efforts are not made to close the digital divide, we are further disenfranchising people knowingly. There are three key aspects to this action plan;
- Teaching authentic skills to EAL students so that they are able to navigate their way through technology and its applications.
- Teaching parents the importance of technology in an effort to foster increased recognition of the importance of technology for education.
- Teaching students ways to communicate through language so that their meaning is clear even if they have had reduces exposure to explicit teaching of English language conventions.
Teaching authentic skills to EAL students that allows them to fully understand and access technology requires specific teacher knowledge, careful planning and well executed teaching strategies. Kalyanpur & Kirmani argue that for students to receive the instruction they need “it is crucial that teachers; both pre-service and in-service, acquire training in technology (2005). Others argue even more specific instruction; such as individual instruction for different aspects of multimedia (Macaro, Handley & Walter, 2012). Prichard, who ran an experiment teaching students how to use social media appropriately noted that teachers needed to teach functionality of technology, model how to complete tasks and then guide usage. Additionally, he advocated for the use of social media sites as a place where students can discuss ideas and issues that arise in their studies (2013).
Explicit modeling of technological skills, followed by immediate guided practice could prove beneficial. This way, students can become multiliterate. Our schools’ use of Edmodo could become more dynamic; it could become a place where students are encouraged to ask questions, post materials and talk to their classmates as apposed to the largely one way (teacher to student) communication that currently occurs through the site. Students should be given opportunities to use computers for leisure and interest; thus making them more sophisticated users of technology (Kalyanpur & Kirmani, 2005). Students need to engage with the technologies that will help them in the future, such as Gumtree, Seek and Real-estate websites so that students do not see technology as a purely academic tool, but a tool that will help them navigate our increasingly digital world.
Extending this teaching to parents, family members and caregivers of our EAL students could be extremely beneficial. As detailed in Section 1, parents and caregivers are often uncomfortable with technology and do not see how it can benefit. Teachers need to be mindful of cultural sensitivities, remembering to stay within the Cultural Heritage model and not push hegemonic ideology. I do feel it is beneficial to attempt to show these families the capabilities of technology, and probably more importantly, that we as a school are not using technology to strip students of their culture and morph them into little ‘Westerners’, but as a tool they can use well into their futures.
One way to work within the Cultural Heritage model, while simultaneously advocating the use of technology, lies in the approach. An open evening detailing the school’s use of technology, whereby families are invited to attend, could prove beneficial. Parents could see student work samples, presentations made by students could be shown that tell their cultural story. Parents could be taught how they can access class pages for Edmodo and other school learning sites. Parents can see how their children are becoming multimodal, and hopefully see the merit. Thus, connections between home and school can be strengthened, and hopefully parents and caregivers will be less skeptical about the way technology affects their children.
The final approach to my action plan is teaching students how to communicate with emphasis on creating a clear meaning. Students can examine the plethora of communication options, observing language structures, appropriate rhetoric and the functionality of language. Discourse analysis and socio-cultural language approaches are perhaps the most effective. Discourse analysis emphasises meaning and flexibility in the texts we present students, enabling us to personalize learning and increase engagement (Unknown). Secondly, through giving student the opportunity to talk and examine different ways people communicate verbally, their skills have a greater change of becoming internalized (Scott & Palincsar, 2009).
Combining these approaches can hopefully facilitate the clear use of language in students, so that into the future they are able to not only live, but also thrive within Australian society.
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