Hunger, fear and liberation

One model for conceptualizing human development is Maslow’s hierarchy, which “depict[s] the psychological maturity levels of humans through the satisfaction of progressive needs”68:

At the foundation of the model are basic physiological requirements for survival such as air, water and food. These are followed progressively by needs for personal safety, needs for belonging, needs for esteem, and finally, self-actualization.69

In addition to helping to contextualize the overlapping influences of poverty, education, and technology, this model of hierarchical needs provides a framework for analyzing equity that takes into account the day-to-day realities of students from low-income households.

At the foundation of many students’ experiences of poverty is hunger, which negatively impacts academic development and school performance.70 Even students who do not experience food insecurity directly may have “limited access to healthful, nutritious food, especially in low-income neighborhoods.”71 In the context of edtech, such “physiological needs” correspond with “infrastructure and connectivity needs”72 – broadly defined as access, which can be either “supported or constrained by technological and social factors.”73

Many students from low-income households must also overcome experiences of fear,74 a rational response to poverty-related stressors.75 Social bonds with family, friends, and other community members are indispensable tools for coping with these realities.76 In the context of edtech, “safety needs” correspond with “stability and security needs”, while “social needs” correspond with “integrated information needs.”77 Both are associated with the use of technology within a range of learning contexts.78

Finally, students from low-income households – like all people – seek “esteem” and “self actualization.”79 In the context of education, this struggle is related to liberation from oppression,80 as well as the development of “epistemic agency, pervasive knowledge building, and community knowledge.”81 At the same time, students, educators, and technology developers are held accountable for various outcomes. Yet because these outcomes are generally defined without sufficient input from diverse communities,82 it remains unlikely that accountability alone will reverse trends of differential benefits resulting from disparate edtech access and use.83


68. Urwiler & Frolick, 2008, p. 83
69. ibid
70. Winicki & Jemison, 2003
71. Sustainable Table, 2016, para. 3
72. Urwiler & Frolick, 2008, p. 85
73. Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010, p. 181
74. Phaneuf, 2009
75. Jensen, 2009
76. Wadsworth, 2012
77. Urwiler & Frolick, 2008, pp. 85-86
78. Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010
79. Urwiler & Frolick, 2008, p. 84
80. Freire, 1970
81. Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2015, p. 403
82. Voithofer & Foley, 2007
83. Warschauer & Matuchniak, 2010