As more and more states implement technology-rich programs in schools, children in poorer areas struggle to keep apace. According to a recent Pew Research report, just over 50 percent of these households have internet access. Even if students can access the internet and complete assignments at school or in libraries, a lack of access at home is a critical piece of the learning puzzle.
In many parts of the country, internet access is still a luxury. Here are three reasons why we mustn’t ignore this fact when it comes to education:
1. Participation in Collaborative Activities is Hindered
Technology in the classroom helps engage students beyond the classroom. Discussion boards, peer editing workshops and tools like Google Docs encourage learning and collaboration after school hours. However, in order for students to fully partake in these activities, persistent internet is needed, and limited access greatly hinders participation. In households earning less than $30,000 a year, Pew Research relays that only 18 percent of students have computer access at home. When factored in with extracurriculars and personal responsibilities, one-hour time slots on a public computer may not be enough for students who rely on libraries and campus computer labs. Instead of being able to enjoy learning, students end up worrying about whether or not they can even participate.
2. Health Takes a Hit
While low-income families may be able to afford laptops and other internet-enabled devices, many areas do not have yet the systems in place to provide affordable internet. So, once libraries close shop, many rural students relocate to the likes of McDonald’s and Starbucks to complete assignments and conduct research. This solution is both productive and problematic.
One on hand, free wi-fi is a perk that all of us make use of if we have the appropriate devices. Conversely, studying at McDonald’s is likely not the ideal for educators and health professionals alike, given the accessibility of inexpensive, but unhealthy, food options at these locations. However, for certain communities, large chains are sometimes the only option students have for a late-night study spot, since free wi-fi is critical. Indeed, for one Alabama city, McDonald’s now stands as the only location with free wi-fi since the public library recently closed down.
3. Students Remain in a Game of Catch-Up
Many resources services have gone digital. College and financial aid applications, resume tools, government services and, of course, social networks, are just some of the offerings available to internet users. Yet, if students are cut off from these tools early on in education, their chances of staying offline remain high. 41 percent of adults without a high school diploma are offline, a stark contrast to the 1 in 20 offline adults who earn over $75,000 a year. Even if there are government initiatives like ConnectED are in place to provide internet access to all students, it will take years before its goals come to fruition. Arguably, the internet is not needed to live a productive and fulfilling life. But for students who want to benefit from its resources but do not have access at home, this inequity looks to have long term effects as well.
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