Liberation, poverty, and the school environment

Overcoming “economic, political and social forms of injustice, inequality and inequity”2 requires “‘the integral liberation’ of all human beings and of human beings as whole beings (i.e., spiritual, psychological, socio-economic-political liberation).”3 By contrast, poverty perpetuates “unfreedom,”4 characterized by a lack of control over one’s own destiny:

Freedom, in this perspective, is the main and most important benchmark against which social conditions and the people’s lives should be evaluated. […] The moral harm of being poor is that poor people lack the freedom to live the lives they see fit and to realize the goals they have reason to value.5

To the extent that such freedom is enabled through educational opportunity, it can be determined only through authentic inquiries into epistemic realities such as “why people learn, what is selected for learning and how learning is organised and progresses.”6

In many discourses related to education policy, curriculum, and learning goals, differences in economic and political power are reflected in the construction of poverty as a social problem.7 In fact, poverty is not simply a problem to be solved, but also an injustice actively perpetuated by social hierarchies.8 As a result, many students from low-income households are forced to overcome “a constant frustration with being told freedom is within reach” despite evidence to the contrary.9 Freedom from poverty cannot be achieved through “gesture[s] of charity”, but instead must be reached through “act[s] of justice” that represent “the protection of fundamental human rights” – based on a shared understanding that “[e]veryone everywhere has the right to live with dignity – free from fear and oppression, free from hunger and thirst, and free to express themselves and associate at will.”10

From a student’s perspective, freedom can be conceived of as “non-domination” by the “coercive powers” of authority.11 Education is often idealized as a “practice of freedom,”12 yet many decisions that shape students’ learning “often evolve without sufficient input and debate from those segments of society that are most affected.”13 In regard to education policy, curriculum, and learning goals, the presence of non-domination is reflected in the extent to which students are empowered to “raise questions and concerns.”14 Understanding the power dynamics within such discourses is essential to determining outcomes because the process acts as a “filter, determining what [is] accepted into the canon of justified beliefs.”15

In the school environment, such discourses include inquiries into “how people talk about, think about and plan the work of schools and the questions that get asked regarding reform or change”. While many interactions can be described as “hegemonic cultural discourse[s]”, which “maintain existing schooling practices and results,”16 it is also possible to pursue a more critical discourse in which “conversations tend to be about uncomfortable, unequal, ineffective, prejudicial conditions and relationships.”17 These critical conversations can invite students from low-income households to envision “a transformed school that is about learning, not only for students but for everyone there” – a reality in which “outcomes” no longer “continue to favor certain people and groups.”18

Outcomes, epistemic agency, and edtech equity

2. Sampath, 2016, p. 209
3. Brand et al, 2013, p. 277
4. Graf & Schweiger, 2014, p. 259
5. ibid
6. Unterhalter, 2009, p. 416
7. Strier, 2009
8. Brand et al, 2013
9. Love, 2016, para. 8
10. Mandela, 2006, p. 15
11. Hopkins, 2015, p. 617
12. Freire, 1974, p. 2
13. Voithofer & Foley, 2007, p. 14
14. Hopkins, 2015, p. 617
15. Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2015, p. 401
16. Eubanks et al, 1997, p. 1
17. ibid, p. 3
18. ibid, p. 4