At a time when school districts are spending money on edtech like never before, it is perhaps only natural that some educators are skeptical of the pace and enthusiasm behind it.
As we have reported in the past, some teachers have made it clear that technology tools should support and not replace their expertise.
Meanwhile, changing student demographics in US public schools raise questions about whether educational curricula and technology remain culturally relevant. Between 2010 and 2021, the proportion of non-Hispanic white children dropped to 45 percent of public school students, while the proportion of Hispanic children grew to 28 percent.
EdSurge recently posed a question to a panel of Latino educators and an edtech leader: Is edtech serving the Latino community, particularly its students?
Who is Edtech made for?
As the mother of two bilingual children who are growing up speaking Spanish at home, Rocío Raña has spent a lot of time reflecting on this question. She co-founded educational technology company LangInnov to address what she saw as a gap in the market for assessing Latino children’s reading skills.
There has been some progress in the human-centered design movement, Raña says, where companies involve end users in the design of a product, but he argues that the edtech landscape needs to do much more when it comes to design for black and latino children. .
His comments come at a time when some experts are concerned that, for all the hype surrounding them, the rush to use artificial intelligence tools in education could worsen racial disparities for black and Hispanic students.
“We hear all the time here that black and Latino kids don’t do well on tests, and I wonder if it’s because those tests weren’t really designed for them,” says Raña. “They’re designed for the most part for white, middle-class kids, but they’re used with a different population, with our community.”
Keeping the door open for Latino youth
Cindy Noriega is a third-year math and computer science teacher in the Los Angeles area. Prior to that, she became the first person in her family to attend college, graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles. It was her own struggles as a math student, coinciding with her parents’ difficult divorce, that motivated Noriega to strive to cultivate a classroom where her students felt loved and capable of doing math.
It’s not just the product side of technology that needs more Latino representation, Noriega says, it’s the education side as well. He makes a concerted effort to encourage Latino students at his high school to take computer classes. But one of the first obstacles you have to help them overcome is your own self-doubt.
“I didn’t study computer science until I was 21, and I had classmates at UCLA who did computer science when they were in seventh grade,” Noriega says, “so as long as you can provide that space and give them that early introduction to computer science and technology , Then I’ll do it”.
Latina students in particular will insist to Noriega that they are not smart enough to take a computer class.
It’s not enough for a school to simply offer these students computer classes: teachers like Noriega are working to break down the invisible mental and cultural barriers that prevent Latino students from fully considering the field. Figures from the Pew Research Center show that Latinos are still grossly underrepresented in the science, math and technology workforce.
“There’s that stigma that we sometimes have within us as Latinos, that fear of ‘I won’t be able to do it,’” she says. “That’s why I’m also his cheerleader.”
Equal access does not mean equally useful
Edward Gonzalez oversees open educational resources for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools in California. He is also an adjunct faculty member in the department of teacher education at California State University, Bakersfield.
In González’s point of view, simply putting a piece of technology in a child’s hand will not help them improve where they are behind academically or even be effective in teaching them anything. That’s true whether you’re looking for Latino students in urban areas or rural communities, she says.
“You see students taken away from more meaningful learning experiences and plugged into computer screens where it’s basically a memory stick,” González says of the disappointing uses of edtech.
He envisions that a century from now, educational researchers will look back at the educational technology explosion of our era and ask, “What were Latino and marginalized students doing?”
“And we are going to see, unfortunately, a lot of spreadsheets that have yellow and red numbers and cells,” says González. “And then when you get into more prosperous communities or communities where there’s stronger advocacy, you’ll see projects and you’ll see stories and you’ll see kids sharing their own voices. And the unfortunate part is that our children could be doing that now.”
González is not alone in lamenting the poor implementation of the technology that is supposed to help students learn. A recent report on the effectiveness of edtech found that of the 100 most widely used edtech products in K-12 classrooms, only 26 have published research supporting their claims in a way that meets the US Department of Education’s standards of evidence. This is disheartening news at a time when students need help more than ever as they recover academically from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Latino students could be having better and more effective experiences with edtech right now, González says.
“It’s not a future we have to wait for, because all the tools are here and the advocates are here,” he says. “So it’s about making the move now and getting it done.”
Whose technology is being celebrated?
Antonio Vigil is director of innovative technology for the classroom at Aurora Public Schools in Colorado. He has spent his 25-year career working for social change and transformation within public education, in part through what he calls “humanizing mental models and systems.”
For Vigil, to get to the root of how technology falls short for Latino students, you have to go back in time.
The remnants of sprawling Latin American cities like Machu Picchu in Peru or Tulum in Mexico represent feats of engineering that are part of the heritage of Latino students, one they say they have been held back from learning or take pride in.
“When we talk about how technology isn’t serving us, we can’t just think about devices, we can’t just think about software and hardware,” says Vigil. “We have to think about how the ecosystem itself, through colonization, has kept us away from that knowledge and that intellectual curiosity for being the problem solvers that we are.”
There’s a missing human connection when it comes to teaching students about technology, he says. Conversations about high-tech stalwarts in the Americas should not start with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute or MIT, Vigil posits, but with universities that were established by indigenous peoples before the arrival of Europeans.
After all, Latino students come from a tradition of indigenous people who used technology to build sprawling cities in the jungle and measure time with greater precision than our modern calendar.
“Whether you are Quechua, whether you come from a Mayan background, whether you come from an indigenous background, there are cultural and knowledge systems that we have neglected that we must remember and bring to the fore in today’s time. point,” says Vigil. “Only then will we see how the revolutionary needs of individuals and communities are met so that we can develop and iterate on the world and society we want and need. That is fair and humanizing. Do you feel Me?”