“Impacts” of Information Technology on educational organisations

AUTHOR

Farinaz Fassa (Switzerland)

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this paper is to question the “reality” of the changes that the introduction of communication and information technologies (ICT), coupled with teaching methods and school curricula reforms, generated in the school system of Vaud.

Many political discourses (OECD, UE) stress on the fact that the current changes are due to the development of the information and communication technologies. They claim that this supposed Information Age will bring a more democratic society while flattening hierarchical relationships. These discourses take very often for granted that the emerging knowledge and/or information society will be driven by a “knowledge economy”. From these views, school systems have to adapt. They have to build the computer skills that everyone will need in the future to avoid being a victim of the “digital divide”. Teachers are especially called upon to build these new skills. They are considered as the most privileged intermediary users of ICT. Therefore, they should master this technology and make it part of their daily work in order to transfer these skills to their students.

Mosconi (1994), Baudoux (1997) and other feminist researchers showed that besides explicit curricula, schools convey what they call “hidden curricula” that include learning the way a system is working through the experience of relationships between persons and organisational structure. Our hypothesis is that the way teachers are acting towards this technology is partially at the roots of students representations and practices. We focused our attention on the relationships between gender and technology. This question appeared, along the research, to be a good marker for understanding how tradition relates with innovation and for assessing the types of changes -linked to the so-called information society- that are implemented. We addressed a questionnaire survey to 15% of the teachers working in this area in the French part of Switzerland to understand what were their representations and practices of computer in their professional environment.

Results

  1. While women use more the computers with their students than men, their know-how in this field are not acknowledged:
    • They are addressed only as basic users; they have rarely access to highly qualifying courses and are never considered as designers of these knew know-how.
    • They think of themselves as less qualified than their masculine colleagues.
  2. More than men women link computer with social characteristics. They are not as their colleagues driven by the technical side of the machines. They insist less on efficiency than men, although they associate more than men the use of computers to professional activities.
  3. Women adopt more than men determinist views about the relationships between technology and society.

Those results, among others, show that one denies competence to women in this field and that they agree with this view. Moreover, they believe that the technological field is of tremendous importance for social development and at the same time, they consider themselves as outsiders. These elements show that the representations of computer at school are as well clearly organized on a gender line, as they are related to the way power is dealt with. On one side, men aim to master the technology, they are the designers of school programs in this area ; on the other side, women put up with it.

In our view, these gendered images have influence on the students (we could not verify this hypothesis as the access to the students was not given to us by the school authorities) and will modify their view on technology. They may renew the traditional inequity between males and females, proposing to the first powerful positions and to the second executant’s roles, which is reinforced, since in the upcoming “information society” computer abilities are highly valued. The building of these specific relationships between women and technology is in the straight line of what anthropologists, such as Tabet (1998), point out while analyzing “traditional” societies : it is a way to reproduce the domination of women by male.

Those results raise social and ethical questions about the meanings of the changes induced by or related to IT, especially when there are taking place within an organisation in charge of building personalities for the future. They show that the school organisation, despite its assertion of neutrality and its claims to develop autonomous and responsible persons, is reproducing (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1973) the main inequities, even if it adorns this process with new discourses. They also point out that tradition and innovation mix on a particular way, such as the main traditional patterns, related to the dealing with power, stay stable.

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