Technological disadvantage of the Digital Age

Year: 2004

Author: Johnson, Nicola

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Debates continue about the relative benefits, costs and risks of the diffusion of computer-based technologies throughout society and schooling. One area that has received considerable attention is gender equity. Early work on gender and computers focused on differences between male and female access and use (e.g. Martin & Murchie-Beyma, 1992; Sofia, 1993; Kirkman, 1993; Nelson and Cooper, 1997; Morritt, 1997), with concerns focused on the potential for girls to be disadvantaged. In some respects, it is arguable that problems of gender equity in schools with respect to computers have been overcome. For example, in a small study I conducted in two New Zealand senior primary schools in 2003, I found that both boys and girls were motivated to use computers and appeared to have equal opportunities to access computers in the classroom. The students in my study expressed a belief in the importance of using computers, and this belief can also be discerned from educational policy and media coverage.

In this paper I argue that, although gender by itself no longer appears to be a source of disadvantage in terms of access to and use of computers in schools, many questions about technology, schooling and power relations still remain unanswered. I present two alternative viewpoints on the new digital age. First, I explore Melanie Stewart Millar's (1998) analysis of digital discourse as one which reproduces the power of white, middle-class, educated, well-paid males, and excludes anything else it considers 'Other'. Second, I review arguments that the digital age has provided sites for the transcendence of traditional hierarchies and inequalities (e.g. Spender, 1995). I conclude that, despite the discrepancies between these two viewpoints, both concur that technological disadvantage will exacerbate any existing inequality that might result from intersections of identity categories, such as, gender, ethnicity, age, and socio-economic status.