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
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.”
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.