Just Having A Computer Doesn’t Do Much For Poor Children
Nearly one in four children don’t have access to a computer at home, a fact that has led some to raise alarms about the “digital divide.” But new study suggests that simply having a computer in the household might not do much for kids educationally.
“Our results indicate that computer ownership alone is unlikely to have much of an impact on short-term schooling outcomes for low-income children,” report Robert W. Fairlie and Jonathan Robinson of UC-Santa Cruz.
Gregory Ferenstein of the website Tech Crunch comments:
“On the one hand, it’s good news that doomsday predictions for computer-less children have been exaggerated. However, giving out computers was one of the easier solutions to closing the poverty educational outcome gap, and now we have to go back to the drawing board.
‘We find that even though the experiment had a large effect on computer ownership and total hours of computer use, there is no evidence of an effect on a host of educational outcomes, including grades, standardized test scores, credits earned, attendance, and disciplinary actions,’ explains the new report, contradicting previous evidence that children without Internet had a severe disadvantage on exams.
Based on the (reasonable) fear that lack of computer access was hurting poor students, California gave out computers to 1,123 students in grades 6-10 attending 15 schools across the diverse central California area. Most importantly, the data-savvy administrators randomly selected half the students as participants, so that we wouldn’t have to worry about whether those who took up the offer were unusually motivated.
Fairlie and Robinson found that computer use among the children went up, but so did their access to less-than-educational games. ‘We find that home computers increase total use of computers for schoolwork, but also increase total use of computers for games, social networking and other entertainment, which might offset each other,’ surmise the researchers.
Of course, having computers may have non-educational benefits. Basic computer literacy certainly helps in a knowledge economy. But the real problem is that many poor kids never even get a shot at information technology jobs, and the rich-poor gap is only getting worse. The SAT gap has grown 40 percent and college completion has skyrocketed 50 percent since the 1980s.” (Read more here.)
As is the case in classrooms, too, simply providing technology is not a panacea. I wonder what would have happened if the children in this study and their families were provided with training on how to use the computers for educational purposes? Of course, even that extra step would only go a little way toward closing the gap between rich and poor that Ferenstein rightly highlights.