Equity, Access and COVID-19
Poverty, Race Linked to Lack of Internet for Students
- By Dian Schaffhauser
recently published study from Carnegie
and the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology
found that that both poverty and race affect young people's access to
the Internet. That's an important point when almost every K-12 school
has shifted to online instruction, a report on the research noted.
Without internet, how can students attend class and fully participate
in learning opportunities?
research project quantified how much less likely low-income and
non-white children and youth were to have access to the internet than
their peers. As the researchers wrote, "The empirical insights
highlight how the digital divide might exacerbate existing
educational inequalities in the face of school closures due to social
study relied on data from the American
last done in 2018. Administered by the U.S. Census Bureau to about
three million households, that survey looked at students in grades
1-12 to record the level of internet access in their households by
type (broadband, dial-up, cellular or satellite) and whether the
households received food stamps. The same survey took data about
students' age, race, disability status and the type of housing in
which they lived. The CMU and MIT researchers also looked at results
of students' 2018 math tests in the districts that were part of the
American Community Survey, data that can predict future income.
researchers found that more than three-quarters of students (77
percent) had access to high-speed internet. The main form of
alternative internet access besides broadband was via cellular
connection, which the authors suggested delivered a "less than
satisfactory" experience for schoolwork that relies on
high-bandwidth operations such as video conferencing. Another 5.5
percent of students had no access at all.
researchers concluded that both poverty and race impair access to the
fifth of students (21 percent) live in households that receive food
stamps; they were 16 percent less likely to have access to
high-speed internet and 10 percent less likely to have access to
internet at all.
homes without kitchen facilities were 30 percent less likely to have
access to high-speed internet.
American children and youth were eight percent less likely to have
access to high-speed internet and four percent more likely to have
no internet access.
areas where poor and non-white children had relatively lower test
scores, they were less likely to have access to the internet.
the entire study, children of races other than white or Asian, or
multi-racial children, were less likely to have access to the
internet. Even in areas where a greater number of people have access
to the internet overall, the gap was "persistent" for
children and youth who are African American, Latinx, low income,
participate in English as Second Language programs, and/or lack
only exception that surfaced was those areas where private industry
has brought in internet access, communication and technology for the
sake of tech workers. In those places the researchers found "positive
spillovers" for disadvantaged students, in terms of increasing
their relative likelihood of having access to high-speech internet.
authors emphasized that the study was correlational, not causal. And
it didn't look at specific school data or count how many schools were
using internet-based instruction.
instruction is feasible only if children and youth have access to the
internet at home. Although social distancing may be necessary in the
wake of this pandemic, the digital divide may exacerbate existing
educational inequalities," said Ananya Sen, assistant professor
of information systems and economics at CMU's College
of Information Systems and Public Policy,
who led the study, in an
article about the research.
the moment policy leaders are debating the extent to which future
stimulus packages should subsidize broadband internet," the
report noted. "Our results aim to highlight a particular area
where subsidies may be particularly useful to avoid reinforcing
existing educational disparities."
research was published by SSRN and is openly available as
a PDF in a browser through the SRN website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @schaffhauser.