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Online learning – Brave New World or Big Brother is watching you from the Dark Ages?

Save the Children gave their definition of so-called “educational poverty”, describing it as a process of limitation of children's right to education and deprivation of their opportunities to learn and develop the skills they will need to succeed in a rapidly changing society. ...

This view can certainly be expanded to College and University students, where there is an expectation on behalf of the organisations delivering courses that a certain level of IT equipment is a “given”. Sadly this is not the case.

Both the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the National Education Union have published lengthy studies on the subject and there has been a series of articles in the Press over recent months. They are weighty tomes so, dear reader, if you wish to research these yourself we will leave you to wonder through Google at your own pace.

We are increasingly finding that our world is moving online during the Covid19 Pandemic – Teams meetings, Zoom parties with our friends, Facetime GP appointments, WhatsApp group calls and virtual learning are all becoming regular features of our world. Whether it is about our personal, working or educational lives, our levels of access to IT are all having an impact on our contact with the “outside world”.

Many of us have elderly relatives who struggle with a landline; introduce them to a smartphone or a laptop and it would quite literally blow their minds! How is this section of society supposed to grapple with ordering repeat medication from their GP via an App when they cannot even operate a smartphone or PC?

Schools, colleges and universities are increasingly using virtual classrooms and lecture theatres to deliver course materials. Sadly, our anecdotal experience tells us that in a number of cases this is not working for the deaf students we support.

There is an assumption that because lessons and seminars are recorded, they can be revisited for a recap or refresh at a later date. Lesson notes are also available to “catch up”. However, if you are struggling to lip read a tutor (with or without a dodgy IT connection), have little access to written English and your Signer has not been invited via Teams into the virtual learning environment, you can only begin to imagine that it will not take long for a deaf student becomes disheartened, disenfranchised, fall behind and eventually drop out of their course. How is this equal access we wonder?

Into this complex mix we must add the concept of “educational poverty”. There was a great deal of Press coverage of this during the initial lockdown, when educational establishments moved classes online and parents working from home and probably already using the only PC in the household had to negotiate screen time with their child(ren) and teens alongside the demands of their own jobs.

In many cases we are finding that our deaf students do not have access to a PC at home, with their smartphone being their lifeline to the outside world. Those that do have access to a tablet, laptop or iPad do not always have webcams or speakers if the device is over a certain age or under a particular specification. This means they are effectively an outcast from the virtual classroom.

We know that wherever possible educational establishments are making moves to lend IT equipment to ensure access is not denied to their students. However, this all takes resources and time – sadly by the time the correct equipment is in place the student has already fallen behind and missed vital elements of their learning.

As society as a whole becomes more reliant on IT, in all its various forms, we are increasingly finding that we are not all on a level playing field. When it works it is absolutely fantastic!

However, where we do not have the correct levels and specifications of equipment (whether through age related difficulties/budgetary constraints or any number of other issues) the systems fail us and we definitely are not experiencing a Brave New World at all but sadly retreating into a Dark Age nether world where we have some sort of virtual half-life with limited access to the various support systems that keep our lives on track.

Remember that Big Brother is almost certainly watching you… or maybe that is just your Alexa quietly ordering away on Amazon from the corner?!


British Sign Language and Deaf Awareness Online Training by Deaf Umbrella

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