The nature of the digital divide is simple – some folks have access to technology, others don’t. Pew Research ran an article last week that reframed the digital divide as the homework gap. Again it’s simple, ids either have the technology they need at home to do homework or they don’t. The article points out that it’s hugely an affordability issue…
How big is the homework gap? A new Pew Research Center analysis finds most American homes with school-age children do have broadband access – about 82.5% (about 9 percentage points higher than average for all households). With approximately 29 million households in America having children between the ages of 6 and 17, according to Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data, this means that some 5 million households with school-age children do not have high-speed internet service at home. Low-income households – and especially black and Hispanic ones – make up a disproportionate share of that 5 million.
Compare that to results of a recent survey on technology trends in education…
According to the latest data, video for homework is on the rise; mobile computing is “beyond the tipping point”; and most kids don’t use traditional computers to connect to the Internet at home.
On a house-by-house basis the kids without access are clearly at a disadvantage and unfortunately those are the kids who already at risk. They don’t need another strike against them. Look at it from a community perspective and the same is true, it’s another strike they don’t need. There are some communities where affordability is a bigger issue than other communities either because of the high percentage of lower income families OR because in some (especially rural) areas the cost of connectivity is so much higher that even families that aren’t low income households have trouble affording the rates.
From a teacher’s perspective, what do you do? Teach to the lowest common technology denominator or leave some students behind. From a parent’s perspective what do you do? Take the kids to the library every night. That is a huge commitment that assumes that the library is open and has available connectivity. From a policymaker’s point of view what do you do? That is what we will see in the future as they discuss how to merge broadband access into the Lifeline telecom policy.
I think there’s an opportunity for policymakers to look into the issue and really make a difference to the students, teachers, parents and communities. A chance to invest in the future of all four.