Technology in Schools Project, Technology 2000
The idea of blocking sites with the word
‘breast' in them with the hope of limiting access to pornographic sites was attacked by people working toward cancer awareness since such software would also block out all sites dealing with issues of breast cancer.
See Figure 2.
A home game machine (in this example a Sega Genesis) can bepurchased for one hundred dollars. It has stereo sound capacity, and 6MB RAM, characteristics equaling -
or even better than - those of a one thousand dollar school computer (Macintosh LCIII in this case). (Reinventing Schools: The Technology is Now!)
See Figure 3.
Starr, P. Computing Our
Way to Educational Reform.
General Concerns About Internet Implementation
Internet implementation in the classroom has some broader effects that cannot be viewed as simply advantages or disadvantages to various actors, but must be addressed as concerns on the whole. These issues range from school policies that may have to be introduced concurrently to connecting a school to the network, to wider questions concerning equal access to the new resources on a national level.
In light of the already mentioned possible dangers of using the Internet, it is important to consider the possibility of school regulatory actions that may have to be implemented in conjunction with the new technology's introduction in the classroom. Schools have to define what types of uses of the network are acceptable withing their boundaries. Decisions have to be made about possible monitored access. If a school decides to monitor the use of its equipment, who will be responsible for such a control of Internet usage? Will schools engage volunteers from parents, will students be allowed to monitor each other, or will teachers be solely responsible for this operation? In case there are monitors, what should they be keeping an eye out for, what is unacceptable use of the network that needs to be limited? The alternative to instituting live guards is to limit the use of certain services in general. Schools may decide to only allow use of certain Internet services and may disable such functions as chat rooms and newsgroups.
Yet another option is to introduce software that blocks certain services such as sites deemed objectionable or not educational. There are various software programs available on the market that cater to such needs including NetNanny and CyberPatrol. They allow administrators to decide what web sites may and may not be accessed. Some argue that implementing such software is too limiting to Internet usage, especially since many programs block out more information than may be intended in the first place. Some educators even consider monitoring students' mail which raises issues about privacy concerns. Who makes the decisions about all these questions? How do schools decide how much they want to control network access? These are all questions that have to be addressed early on in order for network implementation not to lead to chaos.
Maintaining Internet access has its costs both financially and concerning human capital. Schools have to decide how they can finance long term use of the system. Moreover, constant technical support is necessary regardless of whether this support comes from the inside or from an outside contractor. In addition to these financial and technical concerns remains the question of generating content. If the school has a homepage, it has to be updated on a regular basis or otherwise it loses its purpose. Homepages do not only require some level of technical expertise, but even more importantly, they need to be managed from the content point of view. Internal bulletin board systems and other school material that may be used through the network also needs constant support.
So far this paper has dealt with the pros and cons of Internet implementation in schools assuming optimal access for all. However, this is far from reality, not all children have equal chances of being in a school that has network connectivity and thus the Internet's addition to education raises concerns about equality. Given the numerous positive aspects that can be derived from the network's use in the classroom, it is likely that unequal access to its resources will further widen the gap between students educated in resource-rich schools and those going to institutions that lack in similar resources.
As has been demonstrated, Internet implementation requires considerable financial and human capital costs. Since 44 percent of a school's funding comes from the local level, and only four percent is governmental contribution, there is a good chance that a dividing live will develop between the haves and the have nots of Internet in the classroom. This fact is further hindered by the hardships faced by low income neighborhoods even in recruiting volunteers for such events as Net Day. Volunteers are probably find and attract in affluent neighborhoods concerning both parental and business involvement. The former because middle class and upper class parents have more opportunities to rearrange their job schedules and take some time off, whereas working class parents have much stricter schedules. Concerning the latter issue, businesses in more affluent neighborhoods can expect to see returns on their investments whereas it is less likely to have parents from working class neighborhoods join in on purchasing computers and Internet services once their children's schools are wired. Moreover, there is probably a higher rate of businesses that can afford to donate resources to such a project in a more affluent area. So even the national Net Day phenomenon that is backed by national sponsors not just local supporters still has a better chance of being successful in an upper or middle class neighborhood as opposed to a lower or working class neighborhood.
Some argue that there is already a huge amount of technology available to children today so going one step further in making computers available to them should not be that difficult. Video games these days are of great capacities mirroring, or sometimes even surpassing, the capacities of home computers from the early and mid-eighties. Many video games have problem-solving approaches integrated in their programs. Similar software can be used in schools to motivate children and to teach them problem solving skills. Considering, again, the comment of the educator quoted previously, incorporating technology that students play with can be beneficial in reaching out to them and profiting from skills they already use with those technology. The Internet is perfect to take advantage of interests that make video games appealing to children because it is also both enlightening and fun at the same time.
"Through recent history there have been two views of technology. The first sees technology as available predominantly to the economically advantaged. The second sees technology as a means of lowering barriers between the financially well off and those less economically fortunate. ... Today games played by children are purchased and played across all socioeconomic groups." The problem with this argument is that games do not necessarily equal education. Moreover, as the following discussion will show, ownership and access to video games does not mirror ownership and access to computers across racial lines.
Almost half of all teenagers own a home video system (49.6 percent). The respective percentages for African Americans, Whites, Hispanics, and Other ethnic groups is 56.1 percent, 48.5 percent, 47.0 percent, and 49.5 percent. Although the differences are not great, the lead of African American teenagers in the ownership of home video game systems is apparent. However, access and use of computers broken down by race do not mirror these figures. According to 1993 government census data 13 percent of Black children and youth between the ages of three and seventeen had access to a computer and 67.3 percent of them used a computer at home. This is in contrast with the 35.8 percent of White children and youth who had access to a computer in 1993, 75.3 percent of whom used a computer at home. The percent for people of Hispanic origin (may be of any race) was 12.1 for access, and 68.4 of that for home use. These data show that although African American youth are somewhat more likely to have home video game systems, they are much less likely to have access to a computer in general, and even less likely to use a computer at home. Children of Hispanic origin are also much less likely to have access to computers than White children. A comparison of school computer use also shows that White children and youth are more likely to take advantage of access there since 62.7 percent of those with access to computers use one in school, while the same is true for only 50.9 percent of Black children and youth and 52.7 percent of children and youth of Hispanic origin.
These data question the validity of the arguments that emphasize the widespread use of home video game systems among all youth to argue that the disparities in access to technological tools for youth are decreasing. It seems that even if parents have the option of obtaining a technological tool for their children, they may not have the same amount of resources for this purpose. African Americans are more likely to get the tool that only has game functions (and costs one tenth of what a similar capacity computer costs), whereas Whites purchase computers that can function as entertainment devices, but can also be used for word processing, data management, and possibly even as a connection to the Internet. This means that the question of equal opportunity to computer technology still remains a central issue in assessing the effects of increasing computer use in classrooms.
The fact that less affluent families will not be able to own home computers encourages the idea of widespread computer availability in public schools. That way these children can at least have access to the Internet in school if they cannot at home. Concurrently we have to remember, however, that close to half of a school's budget is from local sources and therefore a neighborhood with a high proportion of poorer families will have less to invest in computer technology and technical training than a more affluent counterpart. And so although in 1995, half of public schools had some Internet access in contrast to 34 percent for 1994 and nine percent of classrooms were connected as opposed to the three percent the year before, a student in an affluent community was roughly twice as likely as one in a poor community to attend a school with Internet access.
One of the arguments concerning the possibility of widespread access to computers draws attention to the fact that there is a continuous decrease in prices of technological tools because of market forces and thus much of technology will no longer be restricted to affluent neighborhoods and individuals. However, the other side of this argument highlights the vast amount of new technological tools that are invented at growing speeds. Older machines are quickly replaced by new ones and hardware becomes easily outdated. It is hard for schools to invest in technology that will no longer be efficient in just a few years down the road. The same is true for parents. Some will be able to keep up with the quick pace in change, but some will be left behind with old and almost useless equipment unable to upgrade to the new inventions. So although market forces may drive prices down, there will always be better and more efficient models available for the richer. The question ofhow big this difference will be is hard to assess at this point.
In addition to economic inequalities affecting access to computers, there are also concerns that stem from differences in the cultural capital of children. New technological tools introduce new vocabulary to everyday language. The Internet has contributed to the emergence of a whole particular vocabulary describing the functions and parts of the system (e.g. ‘homepages,' ‘web pages,' ‘pointers,' ‘links,' ‘browsers' in addition to the names of the services that have been included in the discussion throughout this paper.) Children who have Internet access in their homes will be more familiar with the culture of computer usage, with the languages and movements involved, and so they will be at an advantage when being introduced to the use of the network in the classroom. Parents from more affluent backgrounds will have been more exposed to new technological tools, they will be more likely to be users of the network themselves exposing their children to the new culture of the Internet. This means that the new vocabulary introduced by the Internet may not be as new and overwhelming for their children as it may be for those who are not used to using computers at all. So even if equal access is provided to children from different economic backgrounds, equal access to the machines does not necessarily mean equal access to its tools and services.