The Unexpected Reason Millions of Kids Are Falling Behind in School

December 14th 2016

Microsoft Office

Technology is making students a lot smarter.

Studies have shown that when a student has individual access to technology like laptops test scores go up. Moreover, teachers are finding "mostly positive" benefits to tech in the classroom as Internet and digital technologies are enhancing student work and research. Similarly, students are becoming better, more collaborative writers as a result.

Unsurprisingly, schools are rising to the occasion by getting more tech savvy: public schools now have one computer for every five students.

But there is a catch: while most students have access to similar technologies at home, some students aren't equipped to continue learning at home. The result is a "homework gap" between students who have access to technology and those who don't. Out of all households with school-aged children, 82.5 percent have high-speed internet connections at home while the remaining percentage—consisting of five million households with children—lack basic access. Needless to say, it's much easier to do homework when your tech access matches what schools offer.

Situations like the "homework gap" lead to "achievement gaps," where certain students outperform others based on their social standing. These gaps are based on many things but are largely due to varying socioeconomic status and cultural barriers like race and gender.

“The digital divide between families with access to computers and the internet and those without magnifies and intensifies the opportunity gap," Jennifer Curry, Chief Operating Officer at ExpandED Schools, told ATTN:. "As just one example, research tells us that exposure to new ideas, people and places helps children develop vocabulary and context that supports literacy development. The internet provides access to the universe, and those who don't have access to educational materials online lose out.” 

The gap becomes even wider when advanced software like mobile apps are considered. According to a Common Sense Research Study, more than twice as many higher-income families have downloaded educational apps for their children, compared with lower-income families. As educational software grows more common, this can lead to even further achievement gaps in America.

The problem extends into the workforce, too. Out of eighteen industrial nations, American workers came in last when tested on tech literacy and digital problem solving. GoGuardian Director of Marketing Rebecca Sadwick explained to ATTN: how tech gaps can follow children into adulthood. "The workforce that today’s students are going to be entering are going to expect them to have basic tech literacy," Sadwick explained. "The students that make it into the workforce, make it into college, that tech literacy is going to be expected."

The key to narrowing the tech gap lies in getting more families and students the technology they need. 

"Computers are obviously key. They provide access to resources that kids may not otherwise have," Sadwick said. "Libraries across the country can be very disparately sourced—they could have older resources, lack of resources—but by giving kids access to the free resources on the Internet, we really equalize the playing field of the kinds of course offerings they can get." The equality in resources should go beyond Internet; kids need access to productivity tools, like Microsoft Office, that allow them to collaborate and create.

The Obama White House has prioritized fixing the technology gap too. In 2013, the administration announced the ConnectED initiative to get more technology in classrooms. “If we don’t get these young people the access to what they need to achieve their potential, then it’s our loss," President Obama said, according to the New York Times. "It’s not just their loss."

When it comes to technology, everything is related. The playing field cannot be leveled just at home or just at school. Like the technology itself, connectivity on all levels is required to actually make change.

Curry sees this as the only possible way out.

“Technology, when used well, can facilitate connections between mentors and students and can provide opportunities for learning that aren't otherwise available," she said. "While technology alone cannot close the opportunity or achievement gap, it is a powerful tool to bring enriching experiences directly to students.”

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