BYOD: Closing or Causing Digital Divide?

The discussion on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) has once again taken off in Finnish media. Should the schools provide all needed devices for primary and secondary education, or should the kids use their own gadgets? Or something in between?

Heterogeneous devices.

Typical argument against BYOD is that it increases inequality: the richer the family, the better their children’s devices, ergo the better chances for them to succeed in their studies and life. There are a couple of counterarguments to this, of which maybe the most common is: Economy is bad, we cannot afford devices for all, but we must transform education to digital, ergo BYOD.

Enter the conciliator. We don’t have to provide every child with a device, only those who cannot bring their own. In Finland this is often compared with cross-country skis or ice skates: everyone should bring their own skis to the physical education class, but the school has a couple of (old) pairs for those who cannot afford.

I personally think smartphones, tablets, and laptops cannot be straightforwardly compared with skis or skates. They are a lot more complex gadgets, which break easily, outdate fast, should be personalized, etc. However, there is some sense in this approach and I think it should be pursued further. Maybe the personalization can be done in the cloud instead of the client device, for example.

One factor having significant impact on how BYOD turns out is the heterogeneity of “allowed” devices. What if all pupils would have exactly the same hardware, running exactly the same software and apps? At least the lives of teachers and administrators would be a lot easier.

This is of course a utopia. Maybe we could get a uniform setup for one class, for one school even. But for everyone on a country-level? I think not. And at the latest when new HW & SW versions get rolled out, this would fall out of sync. At the other end of the spectrum is that everyone could bring any kind of device they like. This wouldn’t work either.

No, the truth is somewhere in between. At the very minimum the needed input and output methods should be specified: keyboard, camera, microphone, speaker, etc. The necessary connectivity modes should be outlined, maybe some sensors, as well as the most basic capabilities (for the likes of information search, word processing, calculation, and publishing).

Finally, if the alternative to BYOD is to not allow devices at all but continue with “pen and paper”, one could argue that this is actually increasing inequality. The reasoning goes that if no devices at school, some children can use them at home, whereas others cannot access them at all.

So it would be a job for the school to ensure that all children get at least a glimpse of what new technologies have to offer. Otherwise some folks would automatically be better prepared for the future than others. And we don’t want that, do we?

Flickr image CC credits: adactio


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