Classroom Technology

The ‘Homework Gap’ Persists. Tech Equity Is One Big Reason Why

By Lauraine Langreo — June 07, 2022 4 min read
High school boy doing homework from his mobile phone in his room.
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Nearly a third of U.S. teenagers report facing at least one academic challenge related to lack of access to technology at home, the so-called “homework gap,” according to new survey from the Pew Research Center.

And that is the case even though nearly all K-12 students were back to in-person learning this school year, according to the Pew Research Center survey, conducted April 14 to May 4. The survey examines teens’ and parents’ views on virtual learning and the pandemic’s impact on academic achievement.

“More than two years after the COVID-19 outbreak forced school officials to shift classes and assignments online, teens continue to navigate the pandemic’s impact on their education and relationships, even while they experience glimpses of normalcy as they return to the classroom,” the report’s authors noted.

The survey found that 22 percent of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 said they often or sometimes have to do their homework on a cellphone, 12 percent said they “at least sometimes” are not able to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection, and 6 percent said they have to use public Wi-Fi to do their homework “at least sometimes” because they don’t have an internet connection at home.

The “homework gap” is a term used to describe the difficulty students have in getting online at home to complete school assignments. It disproportionately impacts students in low-income households, students of color, and students in rural areas.

The Pew Research Center’s report found the homework gap remains a persistent problem. About 24 percent of teens who live in a household making less than $30,000 a year said they “at least sometimes” are not able to complete their homework because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection, compared with 14 percent of those in a household making $30,000 to $74,999, and 8 percent of those in a household making $75,000 or more, the report found.

Homework Gap 06072022 data

Teens whose parents report an annual income of less than $30,000 are also more likely to say they often or sometimes have to do homework on a cellphone or use public Wi-Fi for homework, compared with those living in higher-earning households, according to the survey.

Sixteen percent of Hispanic teens reported they “at least sometimes” aren’t able to complete homework because they lack reliable computer or internet access, compared with 7 percent of Black teens and 10 percent of white teens. Hispanic teens are also four times more likely than white teens to say the same about having to do their homework on a cellphone or using public Wi-Fi for homework, the report found.

When it comes to access to a computer, 20 percent of teens living in a household with an annual income of less than $30,000 reported not having access to a desktop or laptop at home.

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Illustration of young girl using laptop.
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Teens prefer learning in person

Eighty percent of teens said they attended school completely in person over the month prior to when the survey was administered, according to the report. Eleven percent said they attended school through a mix of online and in-person instruction, and 8 percent said they attended school completely online.

A majority of teens prefer in-person over virtual or hybrid learning. Sixty-five percent said they would prefer school to be completely in person after the COVID-19 outbreak is over, while 9 percent said they would prefer a completely online learning environment. Eighteen percent said they would prefer a mix of online and in-person instruction, according to the report.

While a majority of teens prefer in-person learning, there are some differences that emerge by race and ethnicity and household income. Seventy percent of white teens and 64 percent of Hispanic teens said they would prefer completely in-person learning after the COVID-19 outbreak, but that share drops to 51 percent among Black teens, according to the report.

Seventy-one percent of teens living in households earning $75,000 or more a year said they prefer for school to be completely in person after the pandemic is over. That share drops to 60 percent or less among those whose annual family income is less than $75,000.

Some teens worry about falling behind

When asked about COVID-19’s effect on their schooling, a majority of teens expressed little to no concern about falling behind in school due to disruptions caused by the outbreak. But Hispanic teens and teens from families with lower incomes were more likely to say they are “extremely” or “very” worried about falling behind in school due to COVID-19 disruptions.

Overall, 16 percent of teens said they are “extremely” or “very” worried they may have fallen behind in school because of COVID-19-related disturbances. Twenty-eight percent of Hispanic teens said they are “extremely” or “very” worried that they may have fallen behind, compared with 19 percent of Black teens, and 11 percent of white teens. And 46 percent of teens from households making less than $75,000 annually reported concerns about falling behind in school, compared with 13 percent of teens from households making more than $75,000 annually.

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