Equal does not always mean fair

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PVNC Principals are outstanding. You can see some of the fantastic things they are doing on our hashtags, #pvnclearns, #pvncserves and #pvncleads. A conversation with one of them is the genesis for this blog and changed the way I think about deploying technology in our schools.

In the beginning technology deployment was all about ratios, how many computers we had to how many students we had. This model had the benefit of being easy to manage and justify and had the illusion of fairness and perhaps it was fair in 2005. In 2011 I realised that large schools had economies of scale and were able to do more with their budgets. When we rolled out additional technology to support our libraries through a “21st Century Library” project, we did not consider student enrolment. We gave each school, regardless of size, 16 ipads and 8 netbooks. I think, by most accounts, this was an improvement and gave small schools a leg up when they need it.

Back to my conversation with one of our awesome principals…he highlighted for me another issue to contend with, parent income. I started to dig into this and discovered that the data team at Global News took census data from Statistics Canada and created maps showing the average income in each area of the country. Here is a map of Peterborough with the average income shown by the blue shading:

This map is typical, each of the communities we serve has discrepancies in income, as I am sure every school board does. Here is the same chart with our schools mapped onto it:

As we renew our board’s technology plan I am trying to figure out how to incorporate this data into a new model for technology deployment. We are seeing the impact of household income on our wireless network dashboard. My early looks at the data seems to indicate schools in higher income neighbourhoods have a higher percentage of personal devices on the network. This has real implications for our planning and preparing for our Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) strategy. It is not reasonable to expect that we will have the same percentage of students with personal devices across the board when we do not have a uniform household income across the board. Our goal is to give each school the opportunity to have a device for every child by using a combination of board purchased, school purchased and BYOD…if we want this opportunity to be equal then we must increase board and school spending where we expect BYOD takeup to be lower.

Michael Fullan, in his work entitled A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning makes some statements with which I take issue. He states in Table 7 of the document that a device can be purchased for $220. While the time is coming when a device that both School Board IT Manager and modern day student will find acceptable can be purchased for $220, that time is not here yet. The other idea is that $50 of each device will be subsidized by each parent. I think this is wrong headed as well. My central thesis in this article is that we have parents that can’t afford $50 for a device and we also have parents that can afford $400 for a device. Again, equal treatment is not always fair.

Another example of “equality” is not financial, but geographical. My colleague is piloting wifi on school buses. His reasoning: a student that walks 20 minutes to and from school has a two hour time advantage on the student that rides the bus for 80 minutes. Wifi on the bus allows those students to get a head start on their research and homework. I would imagine the cost of this pilot project is expensive but it highlights the notion that my principal friend shared, sometimes we have to spend an unequal amount of money to ensure that each of our students is treated fairly.

Categories School, Educational Technology


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