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Education

Tech-Based Education Holds Back Low-Income Students: Report


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Roughly 263 million children around the world don’t attend school. Researchers at University of Texas at Austin and Pew found the low-income students who are in class can’t always take advantage of their education due to technological barriers. You can join us in taking action on this issue here

Schools are dishing out homework assignments that require using a computer or the internet, but many students don’t have the resources to complete them, the Atlantic reports

New research shows that while digital learning seems to be the latest education trend, all students don’t necessarily benefit from it. Pew Research Center released a study on Friday reporting that 1 in 5 US teenagers can't finish their homework because of the digital divide.

This gets even more complicated when low-income students attend schools pandering to a more affluent demographic with technologically driven education. Schools adopting software for students to submit coursework online put low-income students at a disadvantage.

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One federal survey found 70% of teacher participants assign homework that needs to be completed online. In a 2017 study, 90% of high schoolers reported they were assigned internet-based homework several times a month, and almost half of them received online take-home assignments. The Pew study found 15% of US households with school-aged children don’t have reliable internet access, meaning a lot of students aren't able to finish their assignments.

Low-income students disproportionately miss out — 1 in 3 households that make under $30,000 a year don’t have internet. And lacking internet access at home can make or break a student’s academic achievement. 

One study suggests students without computer access at home are less likely to graduate from high school than their technologically equipped classmates. 

The Pew study also includes data on the “homework gap,” a term used to talk about the relationship between unequal education and technology access. Black high school students are most affected by the homework gap. According to Pew, 1 in 4 of them can’t finish assignments because they don’t have the technological resources required. Half of the students in the bottom income bracket reported relying on cell phones to do homework. 

Read More: New Tech Will Change the World, But Not Without Risks, UN Report Says

There are initiatives to provide students with internet access, but the services are generally underused. According to the Atlantic, one 2017 survey found that half of US teachers have one device for each of their students, which is more than the previous year. But a school laptop without internet at home might end up being rendered useless.

Using the internet at public libraries and other places that offer free Wi-Fi is another option for students, but it isn’t ideal given time limits and the struggle to work in a distracting work environment. 

In an increasingly digital world where as much as 90% of jobs within developed economies require digital skills, this is a huge setback.

Low-income students are finding their way around technological barriers, though.f Professor S. Craig Watkins led a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin to explore the socioeconomic digital divide in high schools over the course of a year and a half. Now they’re working on a book called The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality, to share their findings. Watkins observed students conduct “social hacking,” which means they find ways around their socioeconomic setbacks to technology access. Examples of “social hacking” include making special arrangements with teachers for weekend technology access at school or sharing devices with peers. 

Watkins still thinks educators need to consider the bigger picture before introducing technologically focused curriculums.

“There’s this assumption that just by providing access to technology you’re somehow creating a better learning future for kids, but that is not always the case,” Watkins said