ERIC Identifier: ED339400
Publication Date: 1991-12-00
Author: Neuman, Delia
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Information Resources Syracuse NY.
Technology and Equity. ERIC Digest.
Books and news stories regularly focus popular attention on inequities within
our educational system. In about one-third of our states, lawsuits have sought
or are seeking to remedy funding disparities correlated with lower achievement
for students from poor communities. Concerns about our changing school
population, the plight of our cities, and the perceived failures of public
education have all fueled cries for educational reform that meets the needs of
all our children.
Technology is routinely touted as a potentially powerful agent of that
reform. For years, the microcomputer was cited as the vehicle for overcoming a
wide array of inequities. Today, distance education approaches like
teleconferencing, interactive television, electronic mail, and expanded
telecommunications networks are promoted as avenues to improved resources for
underserved students (Bruder, 1989). But despite the promise of emerging
technology, it is important to remember that technology and equity are not
COMPUTERS AND EQUITY
The literature on computer equity
reveals that many students--not only minority, disadvantaged, and inner-city but
also female, handicapped, and rural--have been hampered by inequitable access to
computers and by widespread patterns of inequitable distribution and use of
computers within and across schools (Anderson, Welch, & Harris, 1984;
Ascher, 1984; Becker, 1986; Hayes 1986; Urban, 1986). Problems begin at the
"counting" level, with wealthy districts having a 54:1 student-computer ratio
and poor ones having a ratio of 73:1 (Hood, 1985).
Limited hardware and software can in turn lead to scheduling patterns that
limit the numbers and types of students who have access to computers. Becker and
Sterling (1987) reported that "better" students use computers more than either
average or slower students in elementary, middle, and, especially, high schools.
Further, Becker (1987) noted that at all school levels, the most exciting
computer opportunities are disproportionately available to students with the
highest abilities; low achieving, high risk students, particularly in high
school, are less likely to be in classes in which these opportunities occur.
While these conclusions stem from data collected in 1985, preliminary analysis
of data collected in 1989 shows only modest changes in schools' overall patterns
of hardware and software use (Becker, 1990).
Factors other than sheer numbers can also limit computer access to selected
groups. Locating hardware in labs and classrooms restricted to advanced students
and setting unnecessarily difficult prerequisites for computer courses can
easily deprive average and slower students of computer opportunities.
Handicapped students can be withheld from computer opportunities by lack of
adaptive devices, special software, or information about how to adapt regular
Finally, software that incorporates stereotypes and uses of technology that
reflect subtle biases can create the most pernicious inequities of all. "Drill
and kill" programs heighten the "masculinity" of both math and computers, thus
reinforcing girls' frequently negative attitudes towards both (Collis, 1987).
Economically disadvantaged students, who often use the computer for remediation
and basic skills, learn to do what the computer tells them, while more affluent
students, who use it to learn programming and tool applications, learn to tell
the computer what to do (Watt, 1982).
Within the literature on computers and equity, authorities often concentrate
on problems and solutions for individual categories of students. Gender equity
has been the focus of considerable research (see, for example, Linn, 1985). THE
NEUTER COMPUTER (Sanders & Stone, 1986), a resource guide and teaching
manual for fostering increased computer competence by female students and
adults, is one of the many programs and publications directed at this audience.
The Council for Exceptional Children sponsors the Center for Special Education
Technology, which focuses on technological equity for students with physical,
sensory, and learning handicaps. Both Apple Computer and IBM support units about
adaptive technology and special software for students with physical and other
disabilities. The Educational Computer Consortium of Ohio has sponsored over
forty projects for minority and disadvantaged students, girls, and disabled
students. The results of these projects have been compiled in YES, I CAN, a
handbook that deals with policy and applications for these groups (Fredman,
1990). EQUALS in Computer Technology, a project originally created to enhance
gender equity, offers OFF & RUNNING, a book of pre-computer activities
designed to prepare all students, particularly girls and minorities, to seek
computer time and profit from it (Erickson, 1986).
While each category of students embodies equity problems that merit specific
attention, many of the concerns and techniques cited within individual segments
of the literature apply across categories. The central recommendations--gaining
awareness of the scope and complexity of the issues and taking active steps to
promote equity for the group in question--are found in the literature for all
groups. Creating positive attitudes toward technology so that underserved
students understand its relevance to them is a basic theme that runs throughout
the literature. Finally, the need for active, committed involvement by equity
advocates concerned about the needs of underserved groups is also necessary to
ensure equity with and through technology (Neuman, 1990). Inequity often results
from oversight rather than intent, and sensitivity to the danger of excluding
some students from technology's opportunities can prevent many of the problems
documented in the extensive literature on this topic. As CD-ROM and online
searching enter the curriculum, vigilance will be especially necessary to
provide all student groups with the benefits of electronic information
Technological equity is a complex issue that
encompasses disparities in access to and uses of powerful learning tools because
of differences in socioeconomic status, gender, ability level, racial and ethnic
identification, geographic location, and handicapping condition. Each of these
areas has its own problems, research community, and suggested solutions. What
the areas share is a need for unremitting attention. Only when all students are
routinely granted access to hardware and to appropriate software, and only when
technology is used to help each student achieve his or her own personal best,
can we speak of technology and equity as partners.
Anderson, Ronald E., Welch, Wayne, W., & Harris, Linda J. (1984, April). Inequities in opportunities for computer
literacy. The Computing Teacher, 11(7), 10-12. ERIC number EJ 297 043.
Ascher, Carol. (1984, Jan.) Microcomputers: Equity and quality in education
for urban disadvantaged students. ERIC/CUE Digest Number 19. New York, NY: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Urban Education. ERIC number ED 242 801.
Becker, Henry J. (1986). Instructional uses of school computers: Reports from
the 1985 national survey, Issue no. 2. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University,
Center for Social Organization of Schools.
Becker, Henry J. (1987, Feb.). Using computers for instruction. BYTE, 12(2),
149-162. ERIC number EJ 349 598.
Becker, Henry J. (1990). How computers are used in United States schools:
Basic data from the 1989 I.E.A. computers in education survey. Baltimore, MD:
Johns Hopkins University, Center for Social Organization of Schools.
Becker, Henry J., & Sterling, Carleton W. (1987). Equity in school
computer use: National data and neglected considerations. Journal of Educational
Computing Research, 3(3), 289-311. ERIC number EJ 358 372.
Bruder, I. (1989, April). Distance learning: What's holding back this
boundless delivery system? Electronic Learning, 8(6), 30-35. ERIC number EJ 392
Collis, B. (1987, Nov.). Sex differences in the association between secondary
school students' attitudes toward mathematics and toward computers. Journal for
Research in Mathematics Education, 18(5), 394-402. ERIC number EJ 361 605.
Erickson, T. (1986). Off & running: The computer offline activities book.
Berkeley, CA: EQUALS in Computer Technology.
Fredman, Alice (Ed.). (1990). Yes, I can: Action projects to resolve equity
issues in educational computing. Eugene, OR: International Society for
Technology in Education. ERIC number ED 323 995.
Hayes, J. (1986). Microcomputer and VCR usage in schools, 1985-1986. Denver,
CO: Quality Education Data.
Hood, John F. et al. (1985, May). Microcomputers in schools, 1984-85: A
comprehensive survey and analysis. Westport, CT: Market Data Retrieval. ERIC
number ED 265 822.
Linn, Marcia C. (1985, Jan.-March). Gender equity in computer learning
environments. Computers and the Social Sciences, 1(1), 19-27. ERIC number EJ 325
Neuman, Delia. (1990, Spring). Beyond the chip: A model for fostering equity.
School Library Media Quarterly, 18(3), 158-164. ERIC number EJ 410 587.
Sanders, Jo S., & Stone, Antonia. (1986). The neuter computer: Computers
for boys and girls. New York: Neal-Schuman.
Urban, Cynthia M. (1986). Inequities in computer education due to gender,
race, and socioeconomic status. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University. ERIC number
ED 279 594.
Watt, Daniel. (1982). Education for citizenship in a computer-based society.
In R. Siedel, R. Anderson, & B. Hunter (Eds.). Computer literacy. New York:
Apple Computer Office Of Special Education. (1988). Apple computer resources
in special education and rehabilitation. Allen, TX: DLM Teaching Resources.
The Computing Teacher. (1984). Theme issue on equity. 11(8).
IBM National Support Center for Persons with Disabilities. (1990). Technology
for persons with disabilities: An introduction. Atlanta, GA: Author.
Kozol, Jonathan. (1991). Savage inequalities. New York: Crown.
U.S. Congress. Office of Technology Assessment. (1988). Power on! New tools
for teaching and learning. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. ERIC
number ED 295 677.
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (1989). Linking for learning:
A new course for education. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
ERIC number ED 310 767.