Even the playing field

In Canada we pride ourselves on universal education and health care. Both of which have faults but are fundamentally excellent programs. As a student success teacher I often work with students whose situations break my heart on a daily basis. Ontario has “universal” education. My question is that while all students have the same physical access to education, do they all have the same emotional and mental access to education? I think not. This disparity is often fed by poverty. While not always the case, some students can’t “access” education due to other traumas, events or abuse, the root is often poverty. Without their basic needs being met, they simply do not have the emotional and mental readiness to learn. By the time they reach high school they have had the benefits of every possible support (elementary schools are amazing, caring places), but feel that they always need extra help, may have a low confidence in their own learning ability and inevitably have some learning gaps. 

What message do we send our children when we let them remain without proper shelter, food and supports? We assume the cycle can be broken with education. This may be true, but students living in poverty don’t have the same access to this universal education and so the cycle often continues. Ontario’s per-pupil funding is nothing to be proud of on the world scale. 

Our school board is embarking on a very exciting new adventure. The networks will be opened up to all devices. With education funding as it is and declining enrollment, we simply cannot afford to keep up with every new technology in every school. The solution? Allow students to bring in their own laptops, netbooks and handhelds. Many already have these devices at home. We ask students to have graphing calculators for university prep math. Why not spend a bit more for a computer that will provide access to online graphing applications in addition to word processing, social media and research? Will “computer or handheld” simply be on the list of school supplies in the near future?
I am very, very proud to be part of this school board. Their new ICT Strategic Plan demonstrates leadership in murky waters, innovation and forward thinking. I get extremely excited at the possibilities that will open up to us over the next few years. My one concern? How will this affect our students living in poverty? We will of course still have computers in schools and therefore in the beginning this impact will be minimal. 

The transition to using this technology fully will take time. Especially when not all students have access to high speed Internet at home. In our school particularly, we have students living in the “beaches” where high speed Internet is not yet easily accessible. Again, the school board has taken great strides and partnered with ISPs to expand areas of high-speed access to include these areas.
We need ways to even the playing field. Whether the “field” is emotional and mental readiness to learn or access to technology, it needs to be accessible to ALL STUDENTS. The gap does not need to be widened any further.

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