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Unequal Internet Access "Widening the Gap" Between Rich and Poor Students

A new survey by the Pew Research Institute found that students from low income households are at a "disadvantage" when it comes to technology in the classroom

Lauren McCauley

As many schools are racing to adopt the latest technologies—tablets, e-readers, cell phones—in their classrooms, low income students and poorly funded school districts are being left in the dust. A survey of middle and high school teachers released Thursday found that the growing gap in internet access between rich and poor students is leading to increasingly troubling disparities in education.

Published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the survey found that only 3 percent of students in low income families have access to the internet at home through a computer or mobile device; the number rises to 20 percent for middle income children and half for those in higher income families.

According to the report, teachers in urban areas are the least likely to say their students have sufficient access to digital tools in school, compared to rural teachers who are least likely to say their students have sufficient access at home.

The respondents admitted that this growing disparity in access is leading to a gap in performance, with over half saying that "today's digital technologies are widening the gap between the most and least academically successful students."

“Teachers whose students come from the lowest income households feel they are at a disadvantage,” said Associate Director of Research, Kristen Purcell.

Other findings include:

  • About seven in 10 teachers say their students now rely on the Internet to complete their assignments
  • Teachers of low income students, however, are much less likely than teachers of the highest income students to use tablet computers (37% v. 56%) or e-readers (41% v. 55%) in their classrooms and assignments
  • Just 15% of [...] teachers whose students are from upper income households say their school is “behind the curve” in effectively using digital tools in the learning process; 39% who teach students from low income households describe their school as “behind the curve”

Educators from low income schools were also least likely to say that their schools did a "good job" providing the digital resources needed or that they received proper training in the new technologies.

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