Mobile: necessary but not sufficient for students

According to Education Week

Lower-income families in the United States have near-universal access to the Internet and some kind of digital device, but they are often at a disadvantage when it comes to the quality and consistency of their connections, especially when they are limited to mobile devices such as smartphones.

That’s among the key takeaways from “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families,” a research report released today by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit research organization focused on children and digital media.

“Not all connectivity is created equal, and not all devices provide the same kinds of online experiences,” the report reads. “Many families face limitations in the form of service cutoffs, slow service, older technology, or difficulty using equipment because too many people are sharing devices.”

The report is based on phone surveys with 1191 families living below the national median household income for families with children. Here are some of their key findings…

  • 94 percent of lower-incomes families have some kind of access to the Internet, but 23 percent of those families (and a full one-third of families living below the poverty line) rely on mobile-only access.
  • Not surprisingly, money is a huge issue: Among lower-income families with mobile-only access, 24 percent have had their phone service cut off, 29 percent have hit the limits of their mobile data plans, and 21 percent report challenges associated with too many people in the family sharing the same phone.
  • Discounted Internet-service programs such as Comcast’s Internet Essentials have barely made a dent in the problem: Among the families surveyed, only 5 percent said they had ever signed up for such a program.
  • Families headed by lower-income Hispanic immigrants are less connected than similar families from other ethnic and racial groups.
  • Lower-income parents were also unlikely to take advantage of community resources such as libraries in order to get connected: Just 29 percent of those without home computer access said they used computers at public libraries “sometimes” or “often.” Mobile-only parents were more likely to make regular use of free Wi-fi at places such as coffee shops and restaurants.

There was a positive takeaway and possible hook into reaching out to people who need support to get online…

Still, the survey found, parents were motivated to get the best connections they can, primarily in order to support their children’s academic development and to connect with family and friends.

Given my own experience yesterday alone, I’m not sure how parents who are offline interact with the schools. I went online to pay tuition, fill out financial aid forms, print out a kid’s homework and check grades through three different parent portals. And I watched one kid use her school ipad to create a video (on movies of the 1930s) that she had to upload today. That involved using online editing tools, finding online clips of various movies, researching places in St Paul with a 1930s significance and again finally uploading the full video. Great to have the mobility when she out on her “shoot” but I know from experience that uploading those videos will take care of any mobile contract data caps.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, education, Research, Wireless by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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