Q&A  | 

Julio Cabero Almenara and the homes digital divide

"Disadvantaged students should be granted "Internet scholarships"

Tags: 'Tecnologías de la educación' 'Telemática' 'Universidad de Sevilla'

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Julio Cabero Almenara is a professor of Didactics and School Organization at the University of Seville, director of the Secretariat for Audiovisual Resources and New Technologies of the same University, and director of the Didactic Research Group. He has taught at different universities across Latin America where he has directed different doctorate programs.

Can you give us an overview of your work?

I am a professor of Didactics and School Organization at the University of Seville, director of the Secretariat for Audiovisual Resources and New Technologies of the same University, and director of the Didactic Research Group.

My work has always revolved around the educational application of Information and Communication Technologies, approaching it from different perspectives: teaching, research and teachers’ training.

Is the current pandemic evidencing that the digital gap was larger than we believed?

We might have been turning a blind eye, pretending it didn’t exist, but it was there. Different PISA reports have evidenced the digital gap among homes based on the economic resources of families, as well as between students in private and public schools. And let’s not forget the differences in the quality of the Internet between cities.

On the other hand, the digital gap concerns not only the access to technological resources, but also literacy, how well trained we are to use them. In this case, parents in families with more resources are often better educated and digitally literate and are thus better prepared to help their children under lockdown. They cope better with stress, and their children too.

 

Which are the consequences of the social digital gap for students, other than not being able to keep up?

In one of the PISA reports, I believe it was in 2015, it was said that the student’s well-being needs to cover 5 areas: cognitive, psychological, physical, social and material. And if there’s a lack of wellbeing in the economic aspect and social environment of the family, this influences the other three.

For instance, if a family has only one computer and the kids need it to do their homework but the parents also need it to work, then the situation gets very complex.

Had the teaching community already warned about the digital gap among students?

The educational community has always been aware of such difficulties, even more so as digital technologies become more important in the training of students.

In my training sessions, I always ask teachers to carefully consider whether, or not, the implementation of technology in their classes will cause a digital divide between students. Education needs long term commitments that address these issues, and the political stability to do so.

Is there a digital gap among teachers too?

There is one in the pedagogical field. Research show that teachers know how to use digital technologies perfectly, but they sometimes do not know how to implement them in the classroom. Many times, we just reproduce the ‘analogue’ way of teaching using technology: we replace paper by pdf documents and show the kids how to store things, but the methodology remains the same.

We need to acquire “Digital Teaching Competencies” that allow us to develop a new pedagogy of teaching based on technology.

Should the government have tackled this issue at the beginning of the crisis?

They should have, but it wasn’t easy. There are teachers who are paying for the student’s internet connection so that they are not left behind, and students sharing devices.   

Will this pandemic push us to rethink education?

It has been said that the liquid society and the fourth industrial revolution in which we live has ‘mega-change’ -constant and permanent change- as one of its main characteristics, and that many of the jobs we currently do would disappear and others reconvert. That is precisely one of the problems for teachers nowadays: before the future was more or less foreseeable, but nowadays the only thing a teacher can do is look in the rear-view mirror at what just happened and try to figure out what will happen next. The current coronavirus is proof of all that.

This new situation brings uncertainty: what we have experienced will be different from what we will experience.

It is therefore vital to rethink education for we are rather focused on a post-industrial society model while already living in a society of knowledge. 

We will have to rely more on digital technologies for training, but from a more critical perspective and not so mechanical and tech centred.

Which steps should governments take to tackle the digital gap?

I believe that the measures should be of a different nature: research gives us the most realistic overview of the state of technological infrastructures in certain areas and groups. Internet should also be conceived as a right in a society of knowledge, because non-access can become a major factor of discrimination and inequality. Disadvantaged students should be granted “Internet scholarships” and teachers should be able to design their own teaching tools. Finally, the educational community should be able to upskill and acquire “Digital Teaching Competences”. 

In any case, we must remain in good spirits and not fall prey to despair for after the black death came modern age and the renaissance.