Uncovering the Homework Gap within the Digital Divide

It comes as somewhat of a shock to those of us for whom Internet usage is a ubiquitous daily activity, that there are millions of our fellow U.S. citizens who have limited to no

digitaldividetopper
Courtesy of MIT Technology Review, “The Unacceptable Persistence of the Digital Divide.”

broadband access. Even though we all know a person or two who do not use the Internet: usually an older co-worker whose nervous about the new technology or an elderly parent or senior citizen who simply refuses to “get on that computer!”; we consider these isolated incidences and are not surprised because older Americans are really not expected to have to keep up with the rapidly changing technological landscape. But the surprising facts are that 20% of adults in households with incomes of less than $30,000 have no broadband at home and for this same demographic only 56% own a desktop or laptop computer, and most alarming is the group most affected by this digital divide is low-income, African American and Latino school-age children.

According to pewresearch.org, “The disparity in online access is . . . apparent in what has been called ‘the homework gap,’ or the gap between school-age children who have access to high-speed internet at home and those who don’t. Some 5 million school-age children do not have a broadband internet connection at home, with low-income households accounting for a disproportionate share.”

The disparity in online access has created what has been termed as the “homework gap,” a term defined on govtech.com as “the technology deficit that leaves some kids lacking the network access and devices they need to complete their schoolwork.”

Chart

Noting that 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires Internet access, the article, “Tackling the Homework Gap . . . ,” reveals that “not all students have an equal ability to tackle such assignments. Some students have a robust Internet connection and a computer, but other students either have no connection at home, or they may be relying on a sibling’s smartphone, or they may do their homework at McDonald’s.”

The Homework Gap was recently examined by the Pew Research Center and explained in the Oct. 26, 2018, article titled, “Nearly one-in-five teens can’t always finish their homework because of the digital divide.” Some of the findings are as follows:

  • Roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17 and whose annual income falls below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6% of such households earning $75,000 or more a year.
  • 17% of teens say they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection.
  • One-quarter of black teens say they are at least sometimes unable to complete their homework due to a lack of digital access, including 13% who say this happens to them often.

In my hometown of Chicago, broadband usage was tracked by neighborhoods between 2008 and 2013 and the results published in Government Technology showed that there were “sizable gaps” in the number of people with broadband access based upon ethnicity and income. Low income, predominantly African-American and Latino communities showed low Internet usage on home computers and devices. This disparity attributes to the Homework Gap, as it was found that “parents who need to help their children with homework and lack broadband . . . are limited to their public library’s hours and the basic Internet searches they’re able to perform on their phones.”

The article spelled out the repercussions of the Homework Gap that’s caused by this digital divide. Foremost, school-age children with less access to technology will likely fall behind their peers in school. Additionally, it was noted that “there is some evidence that teens who have access to a home computer are more likely to graduate from high school when compared with those who don’t.”

It is very necessary to bring increased public attention to this technological dilemma that has the capability of adversely affecting the quality of life of low-income, minority groups for years to come. Public-Private partnerships should be encouraged to help bridge this divide through policies that increase broadband access in disadvantaged communities as well as programs that provide affordable or free laptops and computers in low-income households.

Using & Creating Social Platforms

Through all of its innovations as well as its challenges, Facebook is the social platform that I continue to use more than any other. In fact, I have used Facebook consistently since 2007. But I can’t say that I am an avid FB friend, meaning that I do not feel the need to post daily, weekly or even frequently. I post on Facebook in much the same way that I contribute to verbal conversations: I only talk when I feel I have something important to say. Still, I enjoy connecting with people on Facebook. I have been able to catch up with childhood friends whom I would normally have lost contact with. It’s enjoyable sharing family photos, vacation pictures, and news about personal accomplishments, etc. Facebook is the go-to application for almost all of my family and friends to share the milestones of life.

Facebook is also the most used social platform in my professional life. As the head of the Public Affairs Department on my job, it’s my staff’s responsibility to maintain the organization’s Facebook pages. We have found Facebook to be the best forum for connecting with the public. It delivers immediate access to a core group of people who are interested in the organization’s functions and services. We solicit and receive feedback from our customers on Facebook and we are able to use the communication to assess the efficacy of our programming. Facebook also allows my agency the opportunity to disseminate important messages to the public that the mainstream media either ignores and misconstrues. It’s the best forum for posting videos of the organization’s press conferences, its public events and presentations, and PSAs.

If I could create another social platform that would better fit my lifestyle it would be one specialized for people with like interests to share their cultural travel experiences only. I am asked often for my perspectives on travel to different locales by family, co-workers, and friends because they know I believe travel is not about spending the time isolated on resorts or in fancy hotels but rather using all or some of the time mingling with and learning about the people, their histories and cultures. I do post travel pics on Facebook, but the images tend to tell a small part of my journeys and soon get lost among the plethora of other topics covered on that platform. The specialized travel platform I’d create would only be open to people who are invited, to cut down on the “noise” of too much information. My invited “travel companions” could view my posts about adequately preparing for immersion travel, such as finding the best accommodations suited for this type of travel, where to go for tastes of the local cuisine, music, art, etc., and access prepared travel itineraries complete with contact names and numbers of trusted guides who live in the destinations.

I know that there are travel info social sites already out there and they can be great resources, however, I think that their commercialization detracts from the culture-based travel approach. I would invite companions who ask to view my cultural travel posts and they can also post their own travel posts as long as they fit the content parameters.

Browser Beware: Danger & Benefit of Internet Communication

I recently experienced both the danger and benefit of Internet communication when I was almost lured into a Mystery Shopper scam.

Unaware that being a Mystery Shopper is a thing, I was reviewing the inbox in my university email account when I came across a message with the subject line: Earn Now. When I opened the message, it read as follows (no grammatical corrections made):

Hello,

This Job is currently recruiting.  A Job that will not affect your present employment or studies, fun and rewarding.  You get to make up to $300 weekly, I tried it and i made cool cash, If You are interested you can visit their website at www.consumerinsight.us to apply and read more about the job.

Best Regards.

Job Placement & Student Services
Syracuse University
900 South Crouse Ave.
Syracuse, NY 13244

This emailed message arrived in my university inbox during the week leading up to the first week of classes and as a beginning student, I was receiving a lot of emails from school sources that were new to me. I was intrigued by the chance to make extra money since I was looking toward taking on the significant expense of graduate school, so I visited the website, which turned out to be attractive and well-designed.

The “job” was “Become a Mystery Shopper” and the enticing offer stated, “This is your chance to get paid to shop & dine out. You can make money, have fun and help improve customer service. The importance of customer service has turned mystery shopping into a $1.6 billion a year industry.”

Wow, it sure sounded like the perfect opportunity to make a little extra cash to pay for books, equipment, supplies, and other school expenses. Furthermore, this interesting job opportunity was sent to me from a trusted source: my university’s Job Placement & Student Services department. What the heck, I may as well apply.

So about three weeks later I received a text stating that I got the job; I should expect to receive a “survey packet” in the mail and when I do I should let the company know.

I received the packet and much to my surprise enclosed were three very authenticate looking Money Orders totaling almost $3,000.00, and instructions on what I should do to earn my pay of $300 (plus $50 for travel expenses) off the top. After the initial shock of seeing that much “money” being sent for this Mystery Shopper job that I hadn’t even done anything for yet, I became very suspicious. My husband immediately stated that it was a scam.

It appeared that I had encountered one of the dangers of the Internet: an online con game.

However, to verify that this was indeed a hoax, I turned to one of the benefits of Internet communication: I Googled “mystery shopper scams” and immediately accessed several sites warning against this particular Internet con. I found on the Better Business Bureau’s website (BBB.org) the interactive “BBB Scam Tracker” that searches scams based on keywords. After I entered “mystery shopper” in the search, a report showed the number of related scams reported, a map of the locations of the scams, the date the scam was reported, the zip code where it occurred, and the amount of money the individual lost in the scam. Each report entry also includes a Scam Description. It was complete and instantaneous access to critical, scam prevention information.

 

I read one of the Mystery Shopper scam descriptions that was very close to my own experience (see image above) with the exception being that the poor victim had lost $2,250.00. I’m definitely happy to have been warned about this “too good to be true” opportunity before it was too late.

Apparently, Internet communication can both torment and protect users, so browsers beware.

Current Events Class: Then & Now

When I was in elementary school, Current Events was one of my favorite subjects. The assignment required my fourth-grade classmates and me to simply scan a few newspapers for articles on recent, hot-button news topics and report on those topics, citing our sources, in class. We only had four or so sources from which to choose, usually: the New York Times, the Daily News, the Long Island Press, the Wall Street Journal, and perhaps the New York Post, but the latter publication was not really considered the most credible source at the time. To me, preparing for Current Events class was fun and not really that difficult. But my years in elementary school was way before the Internet and light years before the media convergence that characterizes our sources for news today.

Media Literacy for kids_orig
Courtesy of mrswelshclassroom.weebly.com

Thinking about my fourth-grade Current Events class made me wonder how today’s grade-schoolers are coping with this class in the age of Internet hoaxes and news hacks that were simply unheard when I was in elementary school. Back then, the gap between legitimate news and “fake news” was wide and obvious. I don’t remember any classmate bringing in an article from the National Enquirer for Current Events class; he or she would have been laughed at by classmates and harshly criticized by the teacher.

But now we are oversaturated with news sources and the demarcation line between Current Events and Made-Up Events is blurred. How can our children cope? What is the answer?

Some say teaching media literacy in public schools is the answer. Describing media literacy education for school children as teaching them “to apply critical thinking to media messages and to use media to create their own messages,” medialiteracynow.org , an advocacy group for media literacy education policy, also states, “Media Literacy is critical to the health and well-being of America’s children, as well as to their future participation in the civic and economic life of our democracy.”

MediaLiteracyNow.org is joined in their crusade to educate children to be media literate by Medialit.org, which has produced the “Media Lit Kit: A Framework for Learning and Teaching in a Media Age,” an instructional publication on how to incorporate media literacy in formal education.

The nascent push for media literacy instruction in schools across the nation is best summarized in an Associated Press article headlined: “Alarmed by Fake News, States Push Media Literacy in Schools,” (VOAnews.com, Dec. 30, 2017).

Yet not everyone is keen to jump feet first on the media literacy education bandwagon. In an October 1, 2018, Washington Post article titled,“Why California’s new media literacy law could backfire,” Sam Wineburg, the Margaret Jacks professor of education and (by courtesy) history at Stanford University, states in part that today’s kids do need help: “They mistake ads for news stories. They equate placement in a Google search with trustworthiness. They’re blinded by charts brimming with data, rarely asking where the data come from.” However, he points out, “I share legislators’ view that we need to do something. What worries me is that the solutions they propose are more likely to exacerbate the problem than solve it.” Wineburg goes on to elaborate about the importance of utilizing the best, fully thought-out teaching approach to media literacy, noting that “shoehorning an hour of media literacy between trigonometry and lunch is only a stopgap measure.”

Truthfully, the full scope of media literacy is a lot for an adult to comprehend, I’m sort of feeling sorry for today’s school children who’ll have to totally grasp this concept at the ages of 10 and 11.

Makes me yearn for the days when I sat cross-legged on the floor using scissors to carefully cut articles out of the newspaper, eagerly anticipating the next day’s fourth-grade Current Events class.

A lifelong interest and a long-time dream

Thanks for joining me!

I have worked in the communications field for many years in various roles: staff writer,  newspaper and newsmagazine editor, Public Relations consultant, Management Consultant, and now Chief Public Information Officer for a governmental agency in Chicago. Fascinated by how technology has transformed and continues to innovate this field, I chose to pursue a master’s in communications to gain a deeper understanding and increased knowledge and aptitude in this bold, digital world. My future goal is to create a successful Web-based business.

To attend the Newhouse School at Syracuse University has been a long-time dream for me and I am very excited to have this opportunity through communications@syracuse to now embark on this journey.

I’ve been an inquisitive observer of life and avid writer since I was an 8-year-old with my first diary/journal.  I see my blog, StrongMind with Jalyne Strong, as a continuation of my observations on the world in which we live; I’m eager to delve into the aspects of culture, creativity, contemporary concerns, and digital communication.

As the editor of AFRIQUE Newsmagazine, I shared a copy with actor Isaiah Washington in Chicago in the summer of 2011.