Is technology and education creating social justice?

By Brooke Johnson, MCNC Summer Intern

In the early 2000s, the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) became the first near two-way interactive video system using Internet-based technology in the United States. Through that innovation, North Carolina has been able to progress both educationally and socially, allowing people to connect with each other all around the world.

That’s how Dr. Jamie Lathan, the Dean of Distance Education and External Programs at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) in Durham, was able to find his niche in teaching and technology.

Lathan first found his love for teaching through his parents. Although his parents were not educators, they did care deeply about humanity. While his father taught an adult man how to read, his mother began a selfless act of doing laundry for two elders. Due to the acts of his parents, Lathan stated, “that was the beginning of my desire to serve students and people through my teaching.” Through this influence, he eventually found himself at NCSSM.

While teaching at NCSSM, Lathan was assigned to teach Interactive Video Conferencing courses (IVC) through which he taught and continues to teach AP U.S. History and Honors African American Studies. He is able to learn who students are, where they are from, the communities of the students, and the resources that each community holds. He is also able to sustain education for his students through technology.

In a study by the Babson Survey Research Group, New Study: Over 6 Million Students Learning Online, the BSRG concluded that more than 6.7 million students took at least one online course through a university during fall 2011. The number of high school students who took online courses during the same year was roughly 4 million less than that of college students. The significant difference, according to the study, is because high schools are being underserved and not provided with the ability to take online technology-based courses. Although online courses may not be available to everyone, based on this study it is proven that online courses are on a rise. They are a popular means to creating an equally-educated society through inclusion.

Lathan said he believes “technology in education should give everyone an equal opportunity at being successful by making a high-quality education accessible to all.” In contrast to this, American education has not proven to be inclusive of all minority groups (Blacks, Hispanics and students in rural and poor areas) Lathan finds as important. In fact, technology may only be inclusive of the ones who can afford it.

"Technology in education should give everyone an equal opportunity at being successful by making a high-quality education accessible to all."
--Dr. Jamie Lathan,
Dean of Distance Education and External Programs,
NCSSM

David Nagel, a writer for The Journal, released Report: Online Learning Nearly Doubles Among High School Students, noted that “a fourth of students who had not taken an online class cited the lack of availability of classes as a factor. Another 16 percent said they could not afford to take a class online.”

For many people in the 21st century, technology is mostly about cool gadgets that are reserved for the upper class. Contrarily, technology is a means to break educational boundaries. In Dr. Lathan’s terms, technology “makes learning and teaching more flexible and accommodating and makes up for deficiencies in the society.”

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning in Fast Facts About Online Learning stated that there were an estimated 1,816,400 enrollments in distance-education courses in K-12 school districts in 2009-2010, almost all of which were online courses. Seventy-four percent of these enrollments were in high schools.

The constant rise of students enrolling in online courses is significant to what education will evolve to be and the social justice that will follow. However, supported by the above reports, America will not reach technological “social justice” until technology is used to include every student in the ability to learn.