the difference, but the kinds of technical and social support that children have for using computers for learning. This can include access to the right software and
peripherals. It especially refers to the differential expectations and guidance for learning children receive from
peers and parents.
Combining Pedagogy with Technology
Are we then left with two bad choices: ei- ther denying young people access to tech- nology, or providing it in a way that only worsens divides? Fortunately, the notion of a social envelope points to a third way: providing technology that is
accompanied by the kind of curricular reform, teacher
professional development and infrastructure support
that enables diverse groups of children to use their devices for learning.
Our research team recently investigated two district-wide school laptop programs in California and Colorado. 25
Both districts supplied low-cost netbook computers to all
children in one or more grade levels as part of a curricular
reform focused on literacy instruction. Those programs
specifically created learning environments for the students and teachers, provided professional development
for the teachers, and offered technical support.
In each of these districts, Hispanic and low-income
learners benefited substantially from the interventions,
helping to reduce literacy gaps. This suggests that while
providing equipment alone often amplifies inequality,
providing laptops for use in well-designed educational
interventions can promote social inclusion.
Of course, combining a laptop program with other
forms of support is more expensive than simply providing laptops themselves. But such interventions are better
if they are more narrowly targeted. A carefully planned
and educationally sound laptop program in some grades
would likely be more sustainable and beneficial than a
program that just provides hardware for a broader range
This is an approach that Argentina appears to be taking. It is distributing 3 million netbook computers to all
public school secondary students and teachers, while also
putting substantial resources into curriculum development, teacher professional development, technical support, and program evaluation. 26
Low-income countries need not eschew all uses of
technology. Shared use of computers can bring benefits
to children and are more reasonable alternatives in many
MARK WARSCHAUER The Digital Divide and Social Inclusion
nations. 27 In addition, other school uses of technology
have also proven valuable. For example, a study in India
found that merely tracking teachers’ attendance by providing digital cameras with date and time stamps, and
requiring a daily photo of the teacher at school reduced
teacher absenteeism from 42 percent to 22 percent, and
led to a 40-percent increase in students’ graduation rate
to the next level of education. 28
That intervention cost only a few dollars per child per
year—a fraction of the cost of providing individual laptops.
The attractive and easy idea that giving children laptops and getting out of their way will alone generate great
benefits is too deterministic, based on an idea that technology is a tool to be passed out and that technological
effects are direct and immediate.
How technology affects education is contingent on a
number of factors: socioeconomic background of the students, the role of parents, the expertise and knowledge
of educators, and infrastructure. Technology is a socio-technical network more than a tool. Implementation is
ongoing and the effects are often indirect. Moreover, social repercussions are unpredictable. Politics is central to
any strategy for incorporating technological tools, and
contexts are highly complex. 29
Laptops and other digital media can play a role in improving education, including for those most in need. But
since the poorest countries cannot provide laptops for
all, they should instead focus on lower-cost educational
initiatives, including some judicious uses of technology
at a school-wide level.
Middle- and upper-income countries should consider
providing laptops or tablets to all students, but only to
the extent that they can also provide broader technical and social support to make such efforts worthwhile.
These include funding for Internet access, maintenance
and repair, curriculum development, and professional
training for teachers.
While there is no magic bullet for solving educational
and social inequity, well-planned initiatives with technology can play a positive role.
Mark Warschauer is professor of education
and informatics at the University of
California, Irvine. His published books include
Technology and Social Inclusion, Laptops
and Literacy, and Learning in the Cloud.
FOR SOURCE CI TATIONS SEE:
135 Americas Quarterly SPRING 2012