back to article Technology does widen the education divide. But not always in the way you expect

Welcome to the latest Register Debate in which writers discuss technology topics, and you – the reader – choose the winning argument. The format is simple: we propose a motion, the arguments for the motion will run this Monday and Wednesday, and the arguments against on Tuesday and Thursday. During the week you can cast your …

  1. G Watty What?

    Best preparation for work ever!

    "They had been inside a lot. Some had been forced to work in cramped conditions, sometimes with multiple <<co-workers>> all doing <<something>> and <<managers>> struggling to supervise them. You could tell many had experienced real chaos. Some had struggled with limited devices, and inadequate broadband, using <<Visual Studio>> on tiny screens, for example."

    You are ready for the office younglings.

  2. EarthDog

    They went from "tech is fun" to burnt out cubicle worker in about 1 year. So much for getting everyone to program by High School.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or was it "tech is diverting" and now it is "tech is same-ole-same-ole" and "I want diverting!"

  3. alisonken1


    Just to clarify poll:

    Voting FOR -> Agree, technology is hindering education and creating an educational divide

    Voting AGAINST -> Disagree, technology is helping education and has no effect on educational divide

    Is this a correct assessment?

    1. Keven E

      Re: Clarification

      alisonken1 - Thanks for asking!

    2. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Clarification

      I've wondered that since Monday, and based on the articles so far, I think that's what the poll means and you've linked the for/against labels correctly. However, the articles aren't really arguing much like that, with each basically saying that there is a tech divide and it could be a problem or not. Nobody's stated an absolute opinion that tech is good or bad for education--they're all basically in the middle with slightly different viewpoints. Nor do they appear to be arguing a different specific point. I would find it hard to come up with a statement that one side agrees with and the other side disagrees with.

    3. John Sturdy

      Re: Clarification

      I don't see that the first and second part of each of your cases necessarily go together (although I think they often may). It could be that technology is helping education and widening the educational divide, by giving the keen learners more opportunity to get ahead of the rest, even if there were to be no effect on the reluctant learners.

      I could have learnt so much more from online material (even if restricted to wikipedia and wikibooks or similar) than I learnt in school... although that would have been actual learning, and probably not much good for getting me through exams.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Clarification

        Yes, I think you nailed it. People learn at different rates and technology, especially internet access, allows the high achievers and the motivated to race ahead, get the work done and move on. They are less likely to be held back, possibly getting bored and disruptive, by the teacher having to go at "average" pace. This can also mean the slower learners get left behind because the class moves on before they understand the lesson. Again, tech helps in the latter case, because it's easier to get the slower learners to go over the stuff again. Those with less motivation are still stuffed though because that can only be resolved by having a very good teacher. The best ones will be able to motivate most oifnot all of the class, but even good teachers, let alone those less good, may not have the time or resources to deal with that problem.

        Worse, with kids not at school for so long, and it still being a bit patchy, the gaps in previous years learning will be different for each child. Even the best parents can't always help with schoolwork, not to mention that many of them still had to put in a full days work from home too. And that's not even touching on the issues of less able or willing parents, lack of space and resources etc etc etc.

  4. stuartnz

    REAL books! Aaaargh!

    <rant> "They really fell in love with real books again" - I absolutely HATE that expression "real books". In the last two years, I have read over 350 books, every single one of them on my Kobo. They were very, VERY real, despite not being carved into the dessicated flesh of slaughtered trees.

    "Real book" is a hideously judgmental phrase, implying (barely implict, actually) that any book not printed on paper is NOT real, and therefore inferior. An educator should realise that many people either PREFER to read by other media, or have physical challenges that make doing so necessary/easier. Or, as is true in my case both. < /rant>

      Thumb Up

      Re: REAL books! Aaaargh!

      If its not stamped into a clay tablet, its not real. Paper is so flimsy and ephemeral. 8-)

    2. Dark Eagle

      Re: REAL books! Aaaargh!

      Take me, for example. I'm blind, and I like to read a lot of books, to programming, to biographies, to fiction, basically anything on which I can get my hands on.

      Oh sorry, did I say hands on? I mean any book which I can get on my device. Because printing all those books on braille cost a lot, because the size of the book would double since one page of a normal sighted book is equal to two braille pages, roughly speaking.

      That, and the issue of space. If I would have all those books I have read up to now, in just last two years or so, I'll need a separate room in my house to store them. Not to mention, unlike normal books, braille dots do end up getting thinner and thinner over the years, until they become unreadable.

      So, all those who think that electronic books are not the real books can get stuffed for all I care, because if it weren't for the electronic format, I wouldn't have enjoyed so many of them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: REAL books! Aaaargh!

        So the takeaway here from both of you is that as long as you are satisfied with the medium you prefer or works best for you then all other forms are invalid and should be discarded?

        It's ironic that you are speaking out against a statement with the sentiment that only the one way is the "right" way with the exact same sentiment.

        1. stuartnz

          Re: REAL books! Aaaargh!

          No, that is not what I said,not at all. ALL books are real books, regardless of the delivery medium. The educator could have said that the kids were going back to paper book, but she did not, she said "real books". To call one type of book "real" is to say that other types are not. Paper books are real, but so are ebooks and audiobooks. I find it fascinating that making this point as I did in my initial comment generated so many down votes. I have nothing against dead tree books, but it seems many who prefer them DO have something against other forms of books

        2. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: REAL books! Aaaargh!

          I don't see that argument in either post. They're objecting to the term "real books", and in neither case do they say there is a problem with standard printed text on paper. They simply argue that other methods of getting that text into the brain are just as real as other books. Perhaps you could clarify where you're seeing the judgement against them, rather than just expanding the set? The closest I can see is the negative description of paper from the first post, but that's not really a judgement on those who use it.

          1. stuartnz

            Re: REAL books! Aaaargh!

            Exactly, thank you. The hyperbolic description of paper was mostly for my own amusement and to poke those who didn't get the point so deftly summed up in the cuneiform reply :-)

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      Re: REAL books! Aaaargh!

      You're assuming real refers to paper, as opposed to digital.

      I read is as referring to something useful/meaningful, as opposed to _face_book.

  5. Intractable Potsherd

    Interesting articles...

    ... but, as mentioned by others, they aren't actually debating the motion. Certainly, they are giving interesting anecdotes which could, in a proper debate, be used to support one side or the other, but they aren't reaching a firm conclusion.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Children are less interested in tech". I hope this is true, although the number of kids I see slowly stumbling to our local primary school while staring at their phones makes me sceptical.

    Saying that, I do see more adults stumbling and fumbling around outside as they try to complete everyday tasks while scrolling on their phones. Maybe it really is us adults who have been fully captured.

    I also really hope the prevailing attitude of "Billy needs a tablet because everyone else has one, and because of all the apps he needs, and also it's just so good and educational while he doesn't have anything else to do" changes by the time my little ones get to school age.

    In my opinion, "tech" has massively over-reached the point where it is helpful, and is now obstinately wedged into every single corner of our lives, to the detriment of our ability to think and interact as independent human beings.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I also really hope the prevailing attitude of "Billy needs a tablet because everyone else has one, and because of all the apps he needs, and also it's just so good and educational while he doesn't have anything else to do" changes by the time my little ones get to school age.

      I doubt it, schools are the first ones to be pushing Chromebooks. A new magical source of money from the special shop recommended by the school to go along with books and uniforms.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      ""Children are less interested in tech". I hope this is true, although the number of kids I see slowly stumbling to our local primary school while staring at their phones makes me sceptical."

      There are some very tall children stumbling around neck deep in their phones. It's entertainment and keeping up with the peer group more than anything productive. You'll notice the same thing with food. Kids will happily eat jam tarts all day long but won't be hungry when there is nothing be veg on the plate.

      (oh hell, now I want a jam tart)

  7. tojb

    No substitute for paper

    I've been glibly informed that my child's shocking handwriting won't be a problem for him, and that there is no need to teach joined-up anymore to anyone, because he can just use a computer.

    By an education specialist with a pencil and a notebook physically in their actual hand at the time. Computers already exist, we keep notebooks next to them to organise our thoughts, sketch diagrams, etc, there is no reason for that to change and offering it as an excuse for lazy teaching (days spent blathering on about rights, fairness, citizenship etc etc instead of learning to be effective whether as a tyrant or as a just and kind sovereign, no matter) is the great educational scandal of the age.

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: No substitute for paper

      "I've been glibly informed that my child's shocking handwriting won't be a problem for him, and that there is no need to teach joined-up anymore to anyone, because he can just use a computer."

      Since you realize the penmanship is important, you can do something about it. I don't see learning joined up writing as something not worth learning although I'm not that fussed about putting an emphasis on it. It is very helpful if you wind up getting into any research and need to decipher old handwritten texts. Having done it yourself makes it easier to recognize.

      My penmanship has never been that great and I'm limited even more by an engineering path that had me doing more printing in all caps than anything else. I did learn to type which helps when I need to share information. If I only needs to take notes for myself, my dad being a chemist gave me a superpower in reading the scratches of chickens.

  8. disgruntled yank


    A boy across the street from me did not enjoy the onset of remote school. His parents (quite well off) had strictly limited his and his younger brother's screen time, and being on the computer all the time did not please him.

  9. a_yank_lurker


    The problem was dumping unprepared students and teachers into teaching only online without any preparation. It's not that online learning cannot work. It requires a different approach from teachers, students, and parents to make it work successfully. Very few were prepared or even had a clue what they needed to do. This is beyond the infrastructure and hardware issues many have highlighted. Online teaching has to been done differently and requires a different approach than the traditional school setting. This approach means lessons, assignments, exams, etc. have to structured differently. Children have to supervised by their parents as the teacher is now remote. The requirements of successful online learning are probably poorly understood for younger children. For teenagers and college students, there is probably a better grasp on how to do it effectively as some colleges do online education.

    Because of being dumped in a panic into online learning many found their experience frustrating mostly misses (baseball term) with only an occasional hit. A few thrived but I believe many floundered. They were being asked to do something unexpected with no idea of how to do it. So the expected happened. The question in hindsight is whether the move to mass online learning should have been done at all given the L-shaped mortality curve of Cov-id, an issue for another day.

  10. bombastic bob Silver badge

    unbalance vs balance

    from the article: They really fell in love with real books again. They wanted to be read to, to role play, and do drama.

    Too much of one thing and they wanted its counterpart. They were, in their own way, seeking balance.

    Not to get all "nauseatingly new agey" but I think everyone generally tends towards having at least a reasonably balanced life, which of course varies substantially from one person to the next (so no "one size fits all" nonsense).

    (and being artificially kept away from others is VERY UN-BALANCED)

    in pioneer days of 19th century U.S.A. local farmers and townspeople would often hire one teacher to teach ALL of their kids in a one room schoolhouse. They understood how valuable that was for their kids.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Some had struggled with limited devices, and inadequate broadband, using Google Classroom on tiny screens, for example."

    How this rings a bell ! 2 people doing MS Teams over a 800kbps/2Mbps link. So much fun. Had to configure SQM on openwrt to have chances to be heard by colleagues.

    And the same with pro CAD tools ? No, this can't work. Need to work from elsewhere.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How normal

    "Now they craved completely different things – to climb and be physical"

    That's what children do or did. Until overprotective parents stepped in and decided it was safer for them to get fat, sat infront of a computer or games console. "so they knew where they were".

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: How normal

      "That's what children do or did. Until overprotective parents stepped in and decided it was safer for them to get fat, sat infront of a computer or games console. "so they knew where they were"."

      I was raised as a "free-range" kid. If I wanted to stay in on a nice day (defined as anything short of pissing down), I could do so as long as I was cleaning something. When I got older I had chores to do regardless and many of them outside but by then I was conditioned to prefer being outside. Sure, I needed to tell mom where I was going so she had a clue, but that's about it.

  13. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Screens are poor replacements

    There is something to be said about learning from tangible items. Computers require us to adapt to a certain level of abstraction that we won't be able to do well as a child. There is a passage in a book that goes something like "Just use your imagination" with a response of "use it on what?" Kids are always characterized as having a fervent imagination (which is one of the only places you will see the word "fervent") but they will base their daydreams and play on things they have learned until they have learned enough to imagine things that they have never been introduced to or don't exist. Some of that might be a lack of vocabulary.

    Doing word lists, rows of arithmetic problems and forced reading on a computer makes the computer the enemy. It's not until later in life that you learn it's unproductive to shoot the messenger. My years in school made me hate reading books. At least as something to be done for pleasure. I was fine with them for research and some learning. It wasn't until my mid twenties and a girlfriend that got me into a couple of good authors that I got back into it. I went from there to audiobooks so I could "read" while doing other things. There is also something about doing arithmetic on paper that may be a better way to go. Likely the mechanics of having to write down the process showing carries and stuff. I can still do things in my head that baffle the current crop of teenagers. A maths teacher had banned calculators in class when I was in school but being cheeky, I asked if I could use a slide rule, he said yes so I taught myself how to use one just to push it a bit further. Still lots of fun and all you have to be cautious about is where you stick the decimal. That makes you learn to estimate an answer so you don't do something stupid. Too many students working on computers haven't been taught that so they write down stupid answers. If you work out a physics problem that has you going faster than light, chances are high that you goofed somewhere. If you didn't mess up, for pete's sake don't turn it in to your professor. That would be worth a Nobel prize and the possibility of buying a couple of good sized continents if you are sharp with business and patents.

    Computers are a tool. They can be a highly flexible tool, but not always the best choice. They may be a particularly poor tool for younger students that might do much better with discrete and more primitive items. Being taught to draw a sketch to help visualize a problem is easy to do with pencil and paper but not so much with a tablet. As in the beginning, being able to work in the abstract is a problem for most children. They'll easily find out if their bridge design made from lolly sticks will hold any weight.

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