Help! Our School Structures are outdated and the Digital Divide is growing!

Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952,

This picture represents how learning was originally structured within school systems. One can make inferences about what was important in education in the 1800’s. But how much have things changed since our Canadian school system was implemented? Are Students engaged?

I can’t help but think however, that for all of our new technologies and new knowledge in the 21st century, that the core elements of the educational system are still fundamentally the same. Teachers are working so hard to integrate technologies and initiatives, while still maintaining the status quo set out by standardized evaluations, structures and frameworks upon which the education system is built.

With that in mind, please consider the following statements:

  1. We are headed toward a very serious junction point in education where things will fundamentally need to change to meet the demands of the 21st century.
  2. We are about to see an explosion of technology in our world BUT the digital divide will widen at unprecedented rates.
  3. No matter what an educator does, if the main foundational structures don’t change, the students at the lower end of the digital divide will suffer the most.

Our current structures and frameworks for education simply cannot support the needs of society in our age of technology and information. They also cannot support the digital divide and ensure equity and access for all students in the public education system.

How much of our experiences with educational technology are grounded in realistic assessments of how it is actually working for our students? Who’s voices are being heard?

In our enthusiasm to promote edtech and integrate the kinds of skills that we want our students to have, we come to understand that there are no ed-tech pioneers that have paved the way before us. We are the ones paving the way.


Some people make the mistake that confidence with technology translates into being able to effectively integrate technology with learning. This is not the case. While it is true that our students do not need PD to use technology – The teachers and educators are the ones that provides the opportunities to learn. Educators implement the best practices for students, time management skills, digital citizenship, and integration technologies with the curriculum. It is very hard work. It takes a lot of time. I have not yet found this to be a seamless process. Flexibility is key, because the fact is, when you integrate new technologies, you lose time that you had for other traditional learning opportunities.

The following are just some of the realities we are dealing with:

  • It takes time to log in to your learning management systems.
  • It takes time when students forget how to save and upload to the cloud.
  • It takes time when students also have to negotiate how they are going to share an iPad – a device that was meant for a 1:1 program.
  • It takes time when WIFI cuts in and out. If you are even lucky enough to have WIFI.
  • It takes time when you are not allowed to sign out your computer lab on a weekly basis. It takes time when the sound doesn’t work on one particular app – only on one device and you have to spend time figuring it out.
  • It takes time when students don’t remember how to erase a sketch they have made from a multimedia presentation.
  • It takes time for a lot of students to type out their responses and reflections onto a blog.
  • It takes time to teach students the ‘pathway’ to take to login and find their ‘class’ and/or name for adaptive technologies. And then re-teach it every time they need it because it is too difficult to think abstractly about where their work is online. 
  • It takes time when students forget their password.
  • It takes time when students are navigating the internet to conduct research and they have not had previous exposure and experience with adequate search skills.
  • It takes time to teach effective internet search skills.
  • It takes time when a student is conducting a search and an inappropriate image pops up.
  • It takes time when students are toggling back and forth to social media sites when the teacher is not looking.
  • It takes time to deal with situations where students are swearing at each other in the classroom – over a secret chat channel on their personal devices.
  • And this is in addition to the traditional classroom management issues that continually arise.

The fact is that edtech can be integrated into programming, yet it does take time. Time that has traditionally been devoted to curriculum learning. How engaging is this for students? The potential is there, but we still need ‘more’ to arrive at the point that we want for our students

Then you add on the fact that students need to be reading at a certain level by the end of each primary grade. And students also have to study for standardized tests throughout the school year to ensure that the students do well.

Next you mix this with a school that only has access to 1 computer lab per school, and a small set of devices that are only shared among a precious few.

This is not a recipe for bridging a digital divide, nor is this a recipe that supports the kinds of skills that our students are going to need once they leave school. Our schools need real innovative changes. Yet, there are key differences between schools and school communities. If we consider fundraising opportunities for schools, we see the realities that some schools raise hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in fundraising, in contrast to the many schools that only raise a few thousand dollars.

Our current systems just do not support the realities of the information age.

Who’s voice matters anyway?

The biggest, shiniest voices appear to pave the way, but let’s not forget the voices that we are not hearing. Under current systems, not everyone has the opportunity to be heard. We need to consider not just schools in areas of low economic status but also rural schools and communities, First Nations reserves, and schools even in our capital cities and metropolises that still do not have WIFI.

What about schools who still only have one computer lab for an entire school to share?

What about those schools who can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars from fundraising each year, and those schools who raise only thousands.

At what point do meet that ‘breaking point’ where we realise that we cannot promote equity, access and justice to all students unless we undergo innovative changes? 

Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



2 responses to “Help! Our School Structures are outdated and the Digital Divide is growing!”

  1. Leni Spooner Avatar

    Reblogged this on All Things Moocable and commented:
    This is not an article that deals with MOOCs specifically, but I think if my readers take a moment to reflect, readers will agree that many of the classroom realities listed by Debra MacCallum serve to explain a part of the reason that many people fail to complete MOOCs they have signed up and intended to complete.

    I realize that my comments have little to do with Ms. MacCallum’s most important point _ our growing Digital Divide_a point that cannot be stressed enough. This is definitely an article all parents, educators, administrators should read.


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