Equity & Diversity

Study Shows A Thinner ‘Digital Divide’

By Andrew Trotter — March 26, 2003 2 min read
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Children in the United States are going online in greater numbers, more often, and for longer periods—regardless of age, family income, and race or ethnicity, according to a study of children up to age 17 comparing Internet use in 2000 and 2002.

“Connected to the Future: A Report on Children’s Internet Use,” is available from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The results indicate that 65 percent of American children between 2 and 17 now use the Internet—a 59 percent growth rate since 2000, when 41 percent of children went online from any location. The growth in Internet use is from home, schools, and other locations, such as libraries.

Children from traditionally disadvantaged populations are part of the surge of Internet use, with even 55 percent of households rated as low-income now having online access, whether at home or elsewhere.

Internet access at home increased most dramatically—by threefold in two years—for African-American children, rising to 29 percent of that population. But the study found that disadvantaged children still lag significantly behind more advantaged children in Internet access from both home and school.

“There still remains a startling gap not only in access and quality of access, but in school buildings a disproportionate number are accessing the Internet from computer labs rather than the classroom,” said Peter Grunwald, the president of San Francisco-based Grunwald Associates, which produced the study.

He said that children who get access to the Internet in their classrooms, rather than in a computer lab, are more likely to use it for classroom learning.

The report was drawn from four interrelated surveys: a telephone survey of parents and three online surveys of children and parents. The surveys were conducted between May and August 2002 by the Chicago-based Creative & Response Research Services Inc.

Parental Guidance

The study, released last week, also presented a sanguine picture of parents and their ability to monitor their children’s activities online.

“Counter to the stereotype [of parents who are confused about technology] is the finding that parents continue to play an important role in computer and Internet use well into the ‘tween’ years,” said Mr. Grunwald, referring to children between 9 and 13.

“In 2000, we found parents already had developed a more balanced perspective on the opportunities and threats presented by the Internet,” Mr. Grunwald said. “They are even more balanced now, regarding themselves as a guide as opposed to a watchdog.”

Eighty-three percent of parents expressed satisfaction with their children’s Internet use, including more than half, or 54 percent, who said they were “very satisfied.” Most parents reported that an adult is in the same room or nearby all or most of the time that their children go online at home. Thirty-five percent of teenagers reported the same.

Last year, 37 percent of families that had a home Internet connection reported having a high-speed, or “broadband,” connection. Among children who have broadband access to the Internet, 66 percent reported that they spend more time online than before, and 36 percent said that they watch less television. Twenty-three percent said they get better grades.

Noting that broadband access can cost over five times more than dial- up services, the report suggests that as the so-called “digital divide” narrows in terms of basic access to the Internet, it may reappear in terms of quality of access—with advantaged children better able to use the latest online learning resources.

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