What recent studies show us about the homework gap

Technology dominates efforts in the classroom now more than ever. Students are readily assigned homework or tasks that require home Wi-Fi and access to a smartphone, tablet or laptop computer.

However, there’s a population of students without a home internet connection or frequent access to one or more devices. They’re getting lost in what’s called the “homework gap.” Our experts take a look at the students most affected by tech integration into school curricula and what’s being done to close this gap.

Who is affected by the homework gap?

In a recent study by Pew Research Center, kids ages 6 to 17 were surveyed to find out whether or not recent surges in technological adoption have helped close the homework gap. Unfortunately, findings show that certain demographics are more likely to have trouble completing their homework due to limited digital access.

  • Black and Hispanic teens from lower-income households are most likely to face school-related problems due to limited internet access
  • 1/4 of black teens say they are unable to complete homework because they don’t have reliable equipment or an internet connection
  • 24% of teens with a family income of less than $30,000 per year do not have the necessary equipment or internet connection to complete assignments

Additional expert research found that students that are unable to access the necessary equipment or internet connection to complete assignments must look outside the home.

Co-author of the book, The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality, and professor at the University of Texas, S. Craig Watkins noted a process called “social hacking” in which students “re-engineer their socioeconomic circumstances in order to get access to technology that they otherwise would not have access to.”

  • 21% of black teens report needing to use public Wi-Fi on occasion to make up for the necessary resources not available at home
  • 35% of teens, especially those in lower-income households, said they often complete homework assignments on cellphones

These findings come as a stark contrast to the results reported by non-minority households, especially those who earn over $75,000 per year. Only 4% of teens in this demographic do not have access to a home computer.

Check out a complete breakdown of the digital divide and how teens are compensating for a lack of access.

How are devices being used to do schoolwork?

According to a study by ACT Research & Center for Equity in Learning, students with access to multiple devices typically use them for school-related activities. These include checking grades, homework and communication with instructors during off-hours. Take a look at how access to more than one device affects a student’s digital participation in school activities.

As student access to devices goes down, so does digital participation in all activities except “reading” and “school-related apps.” For these activities, access to only one device was more than sufficient when compared to having access to two or more.

Who’s working to close the gap?

Although many internet service providers offer low-income internet options, subscribers must meet a number of qualifications in order to be eligible for the discounted service. Many consumers are also unaware that most of these programs are even available with providers in their area.

As a response to the initial troublesome findings in 2015, many schools took on the challenge of closing the digital divide on their own. A majority of schools and districts began allowing students on campus early or after classes to access the school network. Some (37%) discouraged homework assignments that are 100% internet-dependent to begin with.

Watkins believes these findings to be an “institutional blind spot” for school policymakers.

“Oftentimes there’s a lack of clarity and vision in terms of what learning should look like with technology. There’s this assumption that just by providing access to technology you’re somehow creating a better learning future for kids, but that is not always the case,” he said.

According to findings from the Speak Up 2015 Research Project for Digital Learning, 46% of schools and districts said they had no plans of discouraging internet-dependent homework assignments while 83% of schools and districts said they had no plans of paying for home internet for low-income families.

“I suspect that people a pay grade or two above teachers likely don’t understand the depth at which this access- and participation-gap divide still exists,” Watkins said.

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