What Does Digital Inequity Mean for Low-Income Children?
But perhaps the most glaring inequity for low-income children is in their access to technology. Regardless of their school environment, low-income students have less access to technology than middle- or high-income students. According to data collected from the 2000 census, only 15 percent of homes where the annual income was between $20,000 and $25,000 (roughly the amount a family would earn if they lived in poverty) had a computer. Furthermore, of the 15 percent who had computers, well over half did not have access to broadband Internet.
To use computers with Internet access, low-income children have to rely on public resources, such as libraries or afterschool programs. But these resources are not without flaws. Computers at these sites are precious commodities. There are usually in far greater demand than supply, and the wait to use them can be long. In some afterschool programs, even if the computers are available, students may not be allowed to use them if there is no teacher available to supervise. Additionally, the public facilities often do not have funding to fix the computers if they get a virus or the hardware breaks, and sometimes the equipment is outdated and cannot perform the necessary tasks.
What the lack of technology means for low-income students is that, in addition to trailing in academic achievement, they are missing out on opportunities to learn the technical skills they will need to succeed in a highly competitive global workforce. Having limited access to Internet-connected computers means that they don’t have time to tinker or explore. They don’t have time to practice basic skills like typing or writing emails, or more complex skills like researching or coding. To compound the issue, teachers in low-income schools don’t use technology as effectively or as often as teachers in high-income schools.
Instead of using computers to design, create, and explore, many teachers in high-poverty schools use them to reinforce or practice academic skills. While study games and practice quizzes are excellent activities, they don’t make up for the creative computer time that many higher-income students enjoy at home. Students in richer families often learn to code on their own or start blogging or creating their own websites, tools that will be useful as they move into the job sphere. They learn to type and pick up word processing and image manipulation at home, whereas students from lower-income families must take classes to learn these skills. Many never do.