Technology: The Social Justice Issue of the 4th Industrial Revolution


Failure to bring technology to all students may result in an inability to realize the potential innovations of our future.
Words by Beth R. Holland
Technology has always instigated revolution – whether the development of tools to progress from the stone age to an agricultural society, advancements in steam and electricity to propel the Industrial Revolution, or the introduction of computers into the labor market to activate the knowledge economy. In 2016, at the World Economic Forum, scholars, entrepreneurs, and thought-leaders announced the arrival of a new, 4th Industrial Revolution. One marked not by a single technology but by the fusion of digital, physical, and biological systems that could fundamentally change the nature of what it means to be human.

Urie Bronfenbrenner, a developmental psychologist, defined “being human” as existing within a nested structure of interconnected systems. His Ecological Systems Theory asserts that every child exists at center of nested, interdependent systems. At the most intimate level, the micro and meso systems comprised of individuals have an immediate impact on a child’s development: parents, siblings, peers, teachers, neighbors, etc. However, exosystems outside of the direct control of the child exert pressures on these interpersonal systems. Whether in the form of new technologies, government policies, or educational mandates, each one impacts the relationships and identities within the ecosystem. These interactions then create new systems that interface with macrosystems like the economy and globalization. And unlike previous eras, in the 4th Industrial Revolution, these exo and macro systems interconnect on a global level and evolve at an exponential rate.

According to Bronfenbrenner, the pace and time of change, or chronosystems, include the events within each individual’s life that impact their perceptions, understandings, and beliefs. In other words, history continues to affect both the present and the future as it interacts with the other interdependent systems within the ecology of a child’s, or an adult’s, life. So the point at which each individual enters into the consciousness of the 4th Industrial Revolution impacts each interconnected system within their world. If this is the case, what does it mean for the millions of children who do not yet have access to the technology of this new era?

Though other problems certainly plague the world – and particularly our schools – Mariette diChristina, executive editor of Scientific American, argues that failure to bring technology to all students may result in an inability to realize the potential innovations of our future. In other words, technology may be the social justice issue of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Without access to devices and sufficient bandwidth, students will be unable to make global connections, access information, and construct new knowledge. However, these actions imply that individuals also possess not only the literacy skills and technical capacity to use technologies but also the broader capability to engage in empathy – to deeply understand the cultures of others, in analysis – to critically assess the credibility and reliability of information, and in synthesis – to create meaning from disparate sources. In his book, Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching, Banks asserts that every nation influences the members of its society through the institutions of school, the media, and technology. A cohesive national society therefore requires equal access to all of these components.

Lack of access and capacity with technology and media threatens to exclude students from society by way of preventing the acquisition of key literacies, skills, and understandings.

An education system that does not help students to recognize the influence that they possess over their personal, social, and technological worlds then prevents them from fully participating in a global and interconnected society.

The 4th Industrial Revolution requires us to be human and humane, knowledgeable and adept at seeking out new knowledge, capable of building connections as well as seeing them within a complex network of digital sources. Education will require more than just the acquisition of basic skills and will need to include the ability to forge connections with others — both in person and online, to promote the shared values of society, and to recognize the role of technology in fostering a global community. In this new era, technology brings the promise of equity in access to information and the possibility for advancement in society. However, for this revolution to occur, we – as educators – need to stop talking about technology as boxes, wires, and tools. Instead, we need to recognize it as an opportunity to prepare all students for success in a global community. Failure to do so would be nothing short of social injustice.

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