While the benefits of technology use by young children may still be up for debate, few would question whether “digital literacy”—the ability to use technology effectively—in older children is a necessity for future success in today’s world. In “New Technology and Digital Worlds,” researchers Mark Warschauer and Tina Matuchniak found that consistent computer and Internet access are strongly correlated with higher grades, the number of students who graduate, and rates of college admission.
Unfortunately, as the study points out, not all students have equal access to technology—which is often referred to as the “digital divide.” Minority students and students of lower socio-economic status, for example, are less likely to use computers, both at school and at home.
While the number of computers available to students in public schools has increased in recent years, Warschauer and Matuchniak note that students actually benefit the most from home computer use. Not only do more than 90 percent of students with computers at home use them to complete school assignments, using a computer at home presents opportunities for “unpressured use,” allowing young people to increase their computer skills, research their own areas of interest, and engage in creative endeavors without time constraints.
However, simply having a computer at home isn’t enough. The computer should also be in good working order and able to connect to the Internet—which presents a significant financial barrier for many families. A recent Pew report reveals that “those living in households earning less than $30,000 per year are the least likely to have Internet access.”
Some lower-income students do have access to smartphones, but these devices do not serve as a substitute for a home computer. As Education Week points out, “While many high school students have smartphones, lower-income students who lack home access to high-speed Internet and computers struggle with the college admissions process and also in doing their homework, such as research for papers.”
Schools, communities, and organizations are taking note of the digital divide and are employing various strategies to increase digital literacy. Some states are making the completion of online courses a graduation requirement. Education Week reports that a number of school districts are partnering with colleges, universities, and other organizations “to improve the quality of digital instruction they provide.” The McAllen (Texas) Independent School District, a Safe Schools/Healthy Students site, took an innovative approach to this problem by distributing thousands of tablet computers to its students for use at home. School districts have also provided their students with computing devices by partnering with tech companies, such as Microsoft, which donates computers to schools.
Some great strides are being taken to shrink the digital divide. Efforts that are made today can help underserved youth along the path to future success, changing their lives for the better.
What do you do in your school or community to ensure that all students have equal access to technology? Please share your ideas below*.
* Email addresses will be kept confidential