This post is inspired by a reflection on what taking action on race equality within learning technology means, triggered by the Race Equality Week running from 7-13 Feb 2022.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many educators came across the term digital poverty for the first time. Digital poverty is a fairly complex term to understand, as complex as defining and identifying racism. I explain here a few antiracist considerations within UK HE institutions on the topic, the considerations are not limited to a particular ethnic group of students, instead, I also touch upon some measures which benefit the wider student cohort in UK HEIs.
“Understanding race equality in learning technology means reframing our concepts and reassessing: What is technology? Where is the technology used? How is the technology used? Who is the target group of the technology? ~~~ Dr Teeroumanee NadanTweet
When attempting to understand race equality in learning technology means, it is important to take a step back and reframe our concepts and reassess:
- What is technology?
- Where is the technology used?
- How is the technology used?
- Who is the target group of the technology?
What is technology? Where is the technology used? How is the technology used? Who is the target group of the technology?
Mid 2020, I contributed to a piece for Technology-Enhanced Assessment in FE and HE Institutions, where I argued for the use of simple technologies to enable a supportive environment for students with disabilities, and students struggling with mental health during the pandemic. Simply put, a tactile pen can be as much of a key technology for one student as a smartphone is for another student. Whilst, the article was targeted at students requiring additional support, when embarking on antiracist measures within our institutions, it is equally important for us to re-define technology at every step. Taking digital poverty into consideration, a voice recorder can be as much of a key technology for one student as a Mac Pro is for another student.
Taking digital poverty into consideration, a voice recorder can be as much of a key technology for one student as a Mac Pro is for another student. ~~~ Dr Teeroumanee Nadan #raceequalityweek #ActionNotJustWordsTweet
The latest data during the pandemic shows that 33% of all children, that is, a staggering 4.5 million children, live in poverty in the UK [Ref1]. Data from 2010-11 and 2019-2020 show a rise from 11% for black children living in poverty in the UK. Although this is a high figure, white children are still the highest proportion of children in poverty, due to the larger number of white children in the UK. Thus, there are 2 key considerations arising from this:
- Addressing digital poverty helps alleviate poverty for all, without excluding digital access to any particular ethnicity. It is also worthy to note that there is a clear connection between childhood poverty and reduced employment opportunities, that is, children from poor background have a 13% estimated reduction in salary (28% to 15%), and their job security at the age of 34 years is reduced by 4-7%. [Ref2]. Subsequently, addressing technology needs for all students in hardship, irrespective of ethinicity, ensures job security in the longer term.
- UK HE Institutions must still undertake geographical and cohort analysis – 1) London has the highest poverty rate (29%), whilst East England has the lowest (19%); and 2) 46% of households with a black family head live in poverty as compared 42% of families classified an “other ethnic”, 39% of Asian/Asian British families, 32% of mixed ethnicity families, to the 19% of their white counterparts [Ref1] . Hence, it is important to realise that ethnic minorities children are less likely to have access to additional support systems, which therefore further disadvantages them compared to their white peers in the long run.
Research shows that ethnic minority undergraduates are on average older than their white peers [Ref3,4]. While looking at antiracist measures to digital poverty, it is important to consider key points such as:
- What technology are we using for the learning environment and supporting platforms?
- Are these technologies intuitive to mature students?
- Is the choice of learning technology equitable to all students?
- If not, what measures are in place for additional support to these students?
In 2012, I undertook a project ‘Internationalisation Change Programme’ funded by HEA, from which I observed a lack of support for international students when it comes to learning technologies. There is the underlying expectation for international students to immediately pick up on technologies such as LMS, CMS, Turnitin portfolios, when most of these students have had limited access to technology before, let alone even owned a smartphone before coming for their higher studies in the UK. One of the key failures of UK HEIs, is that extenuation circumstances are granted only for limited reasons. The fact that a student is not familiar with the use of a particular technology/platform or spends more time using them is not a reasonable enough consideration on extenuation forms. Considering that ethnic minority students tend to be older than their peers, it is important to constantly come back to these four questions above. While doing so, we will realise, a whole range of discrimination can be avoided, and not just racism, thus resulting in a more supportive learning environment for all students who for not-so-obvious reasons need support.
Action for you: This post is kept short, bearing in mind that readers need to take time to ponder on the issues raised and questions asked. Now is the time to take out your notepad and pen, or use Trello if that is what you are most comfortable with, but do observe and reflect on the learning technologies that you have in place in your institutions. Aim to look at what is already well known to you from a different angle, and try to answer the questions raised in this post. You may notice that some of the issues are beyond remit, nonetheless, it is important to reflect on it and have a safe discussion about the issues within your team/department. Do stay tuned, for a follow-up on this topic.
For further reading, please refer to:
- Social Metrics Commission, 2020 – https://socialmetricscommission.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Measuring-Poverty-2020-Web.pdf
- Office of National Statistics, Child poverty and education outcomes by ethnicity, 2020 – https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/nationalaccounts/uksectoraccounts/compendium/economicreview/february2020/childpovertyandeducationoutcomesbyethnicity
- TA Review of Black and Minority Ethnic Participation in Higher Education. Liverpool: Aimhigher. By Tolley, J. and Rundle, J., 2006
- Poverty, ethnicity and education, 2011 –https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/poverty-ethnicity-education-full.pdf