Education, Technology and Social Justice: Reflections on Digital Divides

Over the last 30 years, and particularly recently, technology has had a growing impact on education. However, this impact can be seen as both uneven, and at times unfair. Even in the early days of the web, and even earlier days of online learning, there was much debate on the concept of the digital divide – the recognition that there existed a gap between those who had access to technology and those that did not, and the potential social and educational consequences of this. This gradually changed to a digital divide predicated on skills (with an understanding that access does not guarantee competence), and more recently various digital divides have been viewed through even more various lenses: age, gender, ethnicity, economic background, language, geography, motivation, and digital and media literacy. This discussion paper, which stems from a BESA blogpost, reflects on digital divides and their implications for all sectors of education. What quickly became apparent during lockdown and the impact of Covid-19 was that this exacerbated existing inequalities in society, and that first understanding of the digital divide has not gone away. This has huge implications for an education system that seemingly adopts technology in a blind neo-liberal frenzy, notwithstanding warnings that any progress made in closing the attainment gap between poorer and wealthier students is rapidly being reversed. Furthermore, recent Government moves to address online safety and perceived online harms, with their focus on the notion of individual “resilience”, it is argued, may serve to deepen inequalities in a much more profound way.