Why are we seeing such a pronounced gap between the rhetoric and the realities of digital technology use in education?
One important factor to bear in mind is how the use of digital technologies in education has become increasingly entwined with contemporary capitalism over the past twenty years. In an obvious sense, most EdTech is now an aggressively commercial enterprise – built around a thriving marketplace for the sale of devices, software and services, attracting all manner of corporations and companies competing to maximise profits and share-prices. In this sense, EdTech is now imbued with economizing logics of efficiency, cost-effectiveness, self-interest, economic growth, scalability, planned obsolesce and other facets of contemporary capitalism.
Crucially, EdTech has become a key means through which public education is now being appropriated for profit – what might be seen in Marxian terms as ‘primitive accumulation’ (i.e. the appropriation of the commons).Think of the ways in which primary school apps are now littered with side-bar advertising, or how the majority of education software sells on student data to data brokers and other third parties. Think of the ways in which supposedly time-saving automations require constant behind-the-scenes attention (invisible labour) from teachers. Think of the rising popularity of online platforms where teachers are encouraged to re-sell lesson plans and resources that they have developed for their own classes
This is all a far cry from the DIY spirit and amateurist idealism that surrounded the rise of classroom computing in the 1980s. In addition, it is also worth reflecting on the ways in which EdTech is entwined with what Nancy Fraser (2022) identifies as the logics of capitalism as a societal order. In this sense, we also need to acknowledge the ways in which EdTech preys on extra-economic supports that it needs to function. For example, many forms of EdTech ‘free ride’ on unpaid care work to amass economic value – most obviously the extensive input that parents and carers are required to put into the maintenance of their children’s digital learning outside of school hours.
Similarly– and a key theme throughout this book – is how EdTech depends on the exploitation of natural resources to amass economic value. Vast amounts of water are required for the production of digital hardware, as well as for the maintenance of data centres and services, and the disposal of e-waste. In material terms, the digital devices that have been poured into classroom over the past twenty years are manufactured using vast amounts of metals, minerals and other natural resources. While we might like to imagine it in ultra-modern, other-worldly terms, the digital age has always been dependent upon the exploitation of what Jason Moore (2021) calls “cheap nature”.
In all these ways, the character of EdTech has increasingly come to personify the exploitative, extractive, rapacious nature of contemporary capitalism. Moreover, if the expansion of digital education continues in its current form and at current rates then EdTech will only become more rapacious – devouring more natural resources, sucking up more free labour, further gutting the ethos of public education.
So, how might EdTech be disentangled from its current basis in capitalist logics? How might EdTech be recast as a matter of care, collective interest and solidarity? What might a smaller-scale, local EdTech look like? How might EdTech become “detached from the commitment to profit that ensures carbon emissions continue to rise” (Bacevic, 2021, p.1208)? While we are conditioned to think that there is no alternative to capitalism, what might post-capitalist forms of EdTech look like, and how might they be developed?
Bacevic, J. (2021). Unthinking knowledge production. Globalizations, 18(7):1206-1218
Fraser, N. (2022). Cannibal capitalism. Verso
Moore, J. (2021). The rise of cheap nature in Aloi, G. and McHugh, S. (eds). Posthumanism in Art and Science. (pp.301-307). Columbia University Press.