Minorities Still Face Digital Divide

By Andrew Trotter — September 08, 2006 3 min read
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Nearly a decade after the World Wide Web became widely available, a significant gap persists between minority and white students in their use of that potentially powerful educational tool, according to a federal report.

Based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey of October 2003, 93 percent of white students use computers, compared with 86 percent of black students and 86 percent of Hispanic students, the study reports. Among Asian-Americans, the figure was 91 percent.

The study, “Computer and Internet Use by Students in 2003: Statistical Analysis Report,” is available from the National Center for Education Statistics.

And while 67 percent of white students were likely to use the Internet, just 47 percent of African-American students, 44 percent of Hispanic students, and 58 percent of Asian-American students were likely to do so.

The study by researchers Matthew DeBell, of the American Institutes for Research, and Christopher D. Chapman, of the National Center for Education Statistics, relied on census interviews about computer and Internet use with adult members of 56,000 households that included nearly 30,000 children enrolled in nursery school or K-12 schools.

The report adds weight to earlier studies that have found a “digital divide” between minority and white Americans.

“The digital divide still exists and is a serious issue in our country,” said Don Knezek, the chief executive officer of the International Society for Technology in Education, a Washington-based professional organization that advocates greater use of technology in schools. “It translates not only into equity of access to additional education after K-12, but also to access to jobs.”

The report also documents a digital divide separating students with physical disabilities from those without such disabilities.

Eighty-two percent of students with disabilities used computers, as opposed to 91 percent of the those without disabilities. Of the students with disabilities, 49 percent went online, compared with 61 percent of those who not have disabilities, according to the 62-page study.

Schools’ Role Cited

In spite of the technology gaps between minority and white students, majorities of young people overall—from nursery school through high school—use computers and use the Internet, according to the newly released data.

Overall, 91 percent of those attending nursery school through grade 12 used computers and 59 percent used the Internet, according to the 2003 population survey, with usage rates for computers and the Internet generally rising with grade level, but more markedly for Internet use.

Schools play a big role in helping to bridge the digital divide, the report says, echoing past studies. Many disadvantaged students use the Internet only at school. Among the students who access the Internet at only one location, a majority of those who are in poverty get that access at school.

“Schools do appear to help narrow the digital divide in terms of computer use,” the report concludes.

The study found progress in the area of gender, where a divide in computer and Internet use between female and male students has virtually disappeared. Ninety-one percent of both female and male students use computers, the study found; moreover, 61 percent of girls use the Internet, compared with 58 percent of boys.

The researchers noted that the census data did not address the quality of the experiences of students who use computers and the Internet, the convenience of their access to the technology, or the time spent using those tools overall or for certain activities—all areas that could be addressed in future studies.

A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week as Minorities Still Face Digital Divide


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