Making Education More Democratic?

This is the title of chapter 2 of the book Is Technology Good for Education? which I began reviewing in a previous post here.

In this chapter Selwyn outlines how the prevalence of digital technology and the ease with which we can set up online courses including MOOCs is seen by some to mean that education is now fairer and more accessible to all. You can’t attend school beause you live hundreds of miles away, you have no money or you are in a poor African village? Not a problem because you can join our MOOC and be part of the “massification” of education!

However, even though more people than ever are participating in HE, Selwyn makes the point that clear divisions persist in the types of subject studies, institutions attended and quality of degrees gained. He also references a report (White and Selwyn, 2012) which  concluded that while internet access increased by 66%  over the previous decade, people’s propensity to engage in education did not. Those who were engaging in online education were the ones who were already fairly educated and reasonably affluent. It appears that even though more people are accessing education, these people are of similar groups. Levels of participation are increasing but not widening.

Put bluntly when learning online, it still matters very much who one is.The social disadvantages of being black, female, poor and/or having […] disability do not simply disappear when one learns through the internet.

Toyama (2015) says: If educational inequality is the main issue then no amount of digital technology will turn things around…Technology amplifies exisiting differences in wealth and achievement.

We then enter a discussion about equality and equity. Basically, while we can aim to get equality by giving all students access to the same tech devices, we cannot guarantee equity unless we can change society wholesale. Here’s an example from my years as a high school teacher. Two pupils have iPads for homework. The one whose parents are educated and sit with him and help him will always do better than the one whose parents are down the pub.

So the conclusion?

Digital technology must be part of a solution to overcome social disadvantage but it should never be seen as THE solution.


Selwyn, N. (2016). Is technology good for education?. 1st ed. Great Britain:

Toyama, K (2015)  Greek Heresy:rescuing social change from the cult of technology New York: Perseus p117

White P and Selwyn, N (2012) Learning online? Educational internet use and participation in adult learning, 2002 to 2010, Educational Review 64(4): 451-69

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