Equality of opportunity yes – but at all costs?

On my way home from work I arranged to meet John Connell in the Black Bull. Over a very welcome pint of the “amber nectar” our conversation ranged over a wide range of topics.

I’m never very good at remembering things so I thought I’d try to get this down before we go out. One of the points that  we discussed was the MiWiFi  strategy we are hoping to develop in East Lothian.

John was taken by our ideas where we would provide a wireless network in all our schools which children could access with their own machines.  But he made a great point when I suggested that one of the problems that we might face is the potential discrimination between those children who could afford a top of the range laptop/device and someone who could only afford a “bog-standard” device. John suggested that our desire to always provide equality can sometimes prevent us implementing really good ideas which will benefit all.

In response I equated this with the challenge about sports shoes – yes they can be a source of bullying but the bottomline is what you can do with your trainers e.g. if I can play basketball, better or run faster than someone who has “better” sportshoes – then it doesn’t really make any difference – the important thing is that I’ve got trainers.

John followed up with a better example – will the man who starts playing golf and goes out and buys all the best gear where money is no object, beat the man who a great golf swing and can break par with a second hand set of clubs?

Perhaps this is where we should focus our attention – it’s the outcome stupid! Sometimes we can be so tied up with ensuring equality that we actually prevent the disadvantaged from the opportunity to succeed.

7 thoughts on “Equality of opportunity yes – but at all costs?

  1. Similar concerns were voiced about bullying when pupils started bringing mobile phones to school. There was a lot of debate at the time about the use of mobiles in schools, would the pupils be use them responsibly, would it lead to an increase in theft, would it lead to pupils being teased if they didn’t have the right brand of phone etc

    Mobile phones are now commonplace in schools and in my opinion very little of what was feared would happen actually occurs. The next logical step is to introduce other wireless devices to enhance the learning and teaching experience. In a few years such items will be commonplace and we will again wonder what all the fuss was about.

    Of course there will be teething problems, but problems can be overcome but there’s no reason why East Lothian shouldn’t continue to be at the forefront of introducing information technology in education.

    I for one look forward to having the opportunity to play my part in helping to make initiatives like MiWiFi a success and therefore helping to enhance the experience of our pupils in the classroom.

  2. I think having WiFi in school would be fantastic. The last school I was working in had just installed it throughout the school actually. Every teacher was issued a laptop or pda to use on the network. These devices belong to the school and are returned when you leave. Every lesson in the school is now registered elecronically and the staff are now able to work anywhere they please – a huge advantage given the lack of space in the school.

    As far as I know they haven’t yet moved towards allowing access to the pupils. In my opinion, using a wireless network as a teaching and learning tool will be a huge challenge. In an ideal world, the pupils have their own device which they carry around and can access any time they need to. It is obviously very, very difficult to find the funding to provide laptops to every pupil. So the alternative is to allow pupils to use their own devices on the network. I don’t have a problem with that (apart from the obvious safety implications) but I struggle to see this is a useful classroom tool – mainly due to this equality issue. Could I set a task where I expected those who had their own laptops to use them, and those who did not to share with them?!?

    As I said, I’m all in favour of WiFi, but perhaps for staff initially to test for bugs and ensure security. This could be followed by providing funding for departments to buy of wireless laptops to use in lessons. Then, schools could decided whether or not to allow pupils to bring their own devices to school as well. In the lesson you can then set a task where the majority of pupils use a school laptop from the trolley, but if they had their own they could use that instead.

  3. Fearghal

    You ask:

    Could I set a task where I expected those who had their own laptops to use them, and those who did not to share with them?!?

    Perhaps we need to see this from a different perspective?

    If I go to university I’m likely to have my own laptop. The lecturer doesn’t set tasks for me to use my laptop – I use my laptop to support my learning – in ways that suit me and might be different from the person sitting next to me. Sometimes we are too locked into seeing learning as being under the control of the teacher.

  4. I have to agree with Don on the way that we perceive learning with technology being under the control of the teacher. Early last year I had been keen to get a mobile phone project – a modest one, at that – into a school but the school stepped back three weeks later because of ‘a mobile phone incident’. (As an aside, the incidents are nearly always nothing to do with the phone, more to do with an underlying problem the phone is merely allowing us, finally, to spot.

    Ironically, though, control has an inverse relationship to trust, meaning that the more control we exercise the more we stretch the possibility of gaining the trust of our students in using it responsibly, now or in the future. It’s vital we don’t muck these early days up or we’ll be struggling for a generation to win back that trust.

    Sharing technology is what we do in the ‘real world’, too. Where kids don’t have access to the internet they go around to their friend’s house or use the library. Providing homework alternatives on paper sounds honorable but it’s also denying that student the opportunity to learn vital life skills they will need to blossom in future study and employment.

    Nearly every “digital divide” argument I hear tends to stop at equipment and not go on to that latter point: the real digital divide is not hardware, it’s human beings’ ability to use it effectively, whether that person is an adult or a child.

  5. Pingback: John Connell: the blog » Blog Archive » MiWiFi .v. Gatekeepers Inc.

  6. I see your point Ewan & Don. I agree that it’s important to move as far away from a concept of a teacher-centred learning envrionment as possible, and I think the MiWiFi project gives a real opportunity to make another step in that direction.

  7. I have made a comment on John Blog about this – very interesting. I would be very interested to know more about this initiative – have look at johns blog to see where I am coming from on this!

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