Social problems requires social solutions: ICT and social inequality

In 1995 Nicholas Negroponte described many of the social transformation in relation to digital technologies that we would get to experience in the years to come.

However he didn’t recognized an economic or cultural divided rather a generational divide in information technology. While academics had rapidly moved away from Negroponte digital divide, governments and development agencies have maintained techno-romantic vision of ICT.

Neil Selwyn (2006) outlines many of the romantic views and assumptions of the potential of ICT to foster democratic practices (Kenway, 1996) and boost social capital (Welburn, 2005). Not acknowledging the importance and advance of ICT in our lives would be naive but we need to frame ICT practices especially when talking about education in the same context of social and economics inequalities. Digital inequalities in ICT practices replicate the familiar “social fault lines” of gender, age, income, race and education background (Golding, 2000).

Neglecting the broader social dynamics and accentuating on universal access to ICT causes a technologic determinism where outcomes are credited to technology. This vision also highlights the effect that similar techno-initiatives must produce more or less the same results in all cases (Halloway & Valentine, 2003). In addition it disregards the ways people articulate and perceive the meaning and implementation of ICTs (Selwyn, 2006). The intervention and constrains of how technology should be used are reflected not only upon the use of ICT in education but the implementation and delivery ICT in schools. This approach ignores the depth and layers of social inequality and oversimplified the view and conceptualization of technology (Hudson, 2003).

For Selwyn this is partly a consequence of a conceptualization of digital inclusion addressed in macro societal levels and the diminishment of the individual. Marked by the flawed presumption that ICT use in schools is determined to an educational and empowering activity. When in reality the digital divide crated between use and access to technology in schools and homes often extend the digital divide in ICT classrooms (Buckingham, 2007).

There are several empirical data that shows the different use, appropriation and meaning of technology in different social spaces. The different uses and limitation of technology creates different types of user – not all users become power users and content creators in ICT. People’s ICT engagement is often monotonous and humdrum (Selwyn, 2006) and school’s engagement is often more of a routine rather than reflective process Selwyn, 2010). This raises the question that ICT in formal structures that not people might perceive ICT as empowering activity and might feel that the y don’t want to take part of a very restrained digital inclusion.

I agree with Neil Selwyn when he argues that government and authorities should adopt a more realistic stance toward encouraging youth with ICT but more importantly is finding ways to enhance civil participation and engagement. ICT should be perceived and presented as part of the solution and problem of inequality.


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