I know this statement is so ubiquitous that it has become almost a cliche, but I still want to write it down because it's so important to me. Here we go: COVID-19 has exposed the reality of digital divide in unprecedented ways.
Sabah, my beloved home state, is not spared. Earlier this year, a video of an 18-year old girl staying overnight on top of a tree in the middle of a jungle so she can take her online examination went viral. Her story even made it to the BBC. But we know that this girl’s experience is not exclusive. In resource-scarce areas where Internet access is more a luxury than an everyday necessity, millions of children are falling behind in their studies. A recent UNICEF-ITU report pointed out that this is true even before 'pandemic' becomes a household word. For many years, hundreds of children in Sabah and Malaysia have had to endure unimaginable things for access to education. It's sad to think that it took a viral video of a girl studying on a makeshift treehouse for local politicians to finally take notice.
Scholars such as Warschauer contended that digital divide is more than an issue of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ Digital divide is clearly a sociological problem, and technocentric solutions are not the best answers. The question that I've been pondering upon is this: what will I discover if I try to understand digital divide by making sense of the realities within the social spaces that occupy it?
Bourdieu describes these realities as struggles between an evolving set of roles and relationships in a social domain. I have to embody these struggles in my years of service as a teacher in Sabah rural schools. In this social space, I've tried my best to address learning inequity by utilising digital resources at my disposal to the fullest. I have to learn how to manage the interplay between my knowledge of technology, pedagogy, and the curriculum content. I have to be ingenuous in adopting classroom approaches that make full use of 'anachronistic' digital equipment and snail-y Internet connections.
When I moved to a new social space as a district supervisor, my roles and relationships changed. My struggles in this new space consisted of assisting other teachers to manage the interplay between the three knowledge domains. These struggles inspired my study on ESL teachers TPACK mobilisation and enactment which I did as part of my MPhil. Through the findings, I learned that even teachers who had to teach in the most challenging situations thrived when their knowledge appropriation was properly facilitated.
McKinsey’s report which states (among others) that the quality of an education system can never exceed the quality of its teachers may have been a bit over-quoted (and have also sparked some debates - here's an example, and here's another one). But I think it accurately highlights teachers' true 'location' in this social dimension. It shows that teachers are at the centre of this sociological melee - whether we like it or not.
I truly hope this project can serve as a small first step towards understanding this better.
Will write more soon.
~ccj, Duvanson, 3.41pm
Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.
Warschauer, M. (2003). Technology and social inclusion: Rethinking the digital divide. The MIT Press.