There’s no question that technology is fundamentally changing the way we teach and learn. But increasing technological ubiquity doesn’t mean equality in terms of access and quality.
For those on the more privileged side of the digital divide, it’s easy to take access to personal computers, tablets, smartphones and the internet for granted. But many teachers have seen how much that same level of access doesn’t apply to their students.
In Pew’s 2012 study on the digital divide in education, only 54% of teachers of low-income students reported that students had enough access to technology at school. The Atlantic recently reported that only 39% of public schools have wireless internet available throughout the school building.
Teachers have been making do without computers and the internet for centuries, so one could easily argue that technology isn’t a requirement for a good education. While that’s true up to a point, we all live in a world in which digital literacy is a crucial skill. Familiarity with technology has a direct relationship with the opportunities available to a person. Even more concerning: as curriculum developers move increasingly digital, the best options exist more and more solely in this realm — a trend that will increasingly limit the number of good options for non-digital curriculum solutions.
Also important to consider is the presence of a digital divide within single classrooms between students. While many are pointing to the ubiquity of smartphones even amongst low-income students as a BYOD solution to tech implementation challenges, it can’t be said that a student with a slow-to-load smartphone from 2008 is having the same full-bodied experience as a student who is learning on a brand new MacBook Pro.
As it is, many of these low-income schools and students already face budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Everyone can agree that more tech would be nice to have, but how can schools pay for it without cutting more important services elsewhere?
Each of the options suggested here involve a significant amount of work and chance. Still, if you (and the administrators and parents in your school district) believe that greater access to technology is important to your students’ educational experiences, then the extra work involved should be well worth it.
Grants are one of the most common and practical resources school districts and educators turn to for funding tech initiatives. The only real downsides of relying on grants are:
Any school that would like to make use of grants for ongoing tech programs should probably consider hiring a full-time grant writer, which is of course its own expense. But the number of grants available to schools and the amount of time it takes to research and apply for them could mean the investment in a grant writer pays for itself pretty quickly.
You can find many of the grants that are available collected on a few main websites:
Many school districts have found success with this one, but it’s definitely trickier than the others. You need the cooperation of local politicians first, and then the support of local citizens as well. While few people happily welcome higher taxes, education is one of those issues many citizens agree is a good investment — though perhaps not as many as should.
An upside to this method is that you can often get funding that’s a little more long-term than what you get with grants (although the bill would likely need to be re-approved by voters some years down the line). And once the money is approved, the school district can work with teachers to figure out the most useful tech tools for it to go to.
The downside is that, of course, politics can be messy and if taxpayer money is funding your tech, you can expect greater scrutiny and opinionated locals. You’ll need to be ready to defend your choices, and track and show results.
Smart business people recognize the direct link between education quality and the economy – students that are smart and know technology will make good business people down the line. They stand to benefit from schools having the tools they need to help students learn better.
Some businesses that have figured this out have shown a willingness to work with schools to help fund some of the technology they need. The most common form this takes is offering educational discounts for relevant products, but it can also extend to:
These partnerships can be good for business, as well as for the students that gain greater access to technology. The challenge is finding the businesses willing to invest and making a convincing case to them to do so.
Some days, budget problems seem to belong alongside death and taxes on that list of things that will always be a part of life. These funding options can help schools get around at least some of the budgeting challenges they face and give students access to the technology that will introduce them to broader opportunities over time.