Can technology help disadvantaged students?
For students in regular and well-to-do metropolitan schools, technology is a handy assistant to their learning, and a source of casual entertainment at home.
However, according to what one leading academic on this subject has observed, technology is seen by disadvantaged children and their families as “a golden ticket out of poverty”.
Dr Joanne Orlando, a senior lecturer in early childhood and education at Western Sydney University, is currently undertaking two major investigations – one into children’s home uses of technology and the other into the relationship between vulnerable children’s uses of technology and their well-being.
Last year, Dr Orlando worked with Save the Children – an international non-governmental organisation that supports disadvantaged children – to evaluate a technology program they had integrated into a low-SES school community in Claymore, NSW.
The idea behind the program called ‘Our Mobile Youth Van (M.Y.van), was to engage disadvantaged children in a variety of locations with innovative educational sessions and state of the art equipment.
“We found that many of these kids had access to technology at home, and interestingly, their parents saw technology as their aspirational path out of poverty,” Dr Orlando told The Educator.
“However, what I found really interesting from doing this was that disadvantaged students reported that when doing group work, they would often be marginalized due to their lower literacy levels.”
Dr Orlando said these children, who would consequently lose confidence, were “pushed to the side” while more confident kids would take the reins in the collaborative settings.
“I heard these stories again and again from children in primary and high school, and this was something I’d never thought of before, and it provided some insights into how this issue could be resolved,” she said.
“When these less confident children were using technology in after-school care and surrounded by children like themselves, that’s when they had the opportunity to really learn and develop their skills.”
Dr Orlando said principals must recognise that technology is just as important in younger year levels as it is in senior ones.
“I find there is a tendency for just the older children to use technology, and for the better resources to go to these children.”
Dr Orlando said that from what she has observed over the years, schools seem to be providing less technology-related opportunities and resources for younger children, who are more often than not, entirely capable of leveraging technology to improve their learning.
“There is also a limited understanding of what a six-year-old can do on a laptop or iPad, so I think principals should develop the technological expertise of their teachers in younger year levels and feel confident that younger children can use technology effectively,” she said.