For the last fifteen years education activists have been urging policymakers to eliminate the “digital divide“. Only when ALL children have access to computers and to the Internet will they be able to compete fairly in school and be on a level playing field later in life. So, the argument goes.
Findings from a new study by Duke University Professors Helen Ladd and Jacob Vigdor suggest providing all students with computers might not be the best way to improve student achievement (See article). According to the authors, giving children universal access to home computers and to the internet, actually widens the performance gap between rich and poor students in math and reading.
Ladd and Vigdor compared math and reading scores of 150,000 students in North Carolina before and after the internet and a computer arrived in the home. Comparisons were then made against students who did not have a computer and internet access.
Why did computers tend to widen existing differences among students of varying abilities and backgrounds? The authors suggest that since parents in poorer homes provide less structure and supervision to children’s computer time, computers are used more often for games and social networking and less for assisting with homework.
Providing computers to all students? Sounds like a nice idea. However like cars — minus proper parental supervision — they can be a big hindrance to a student’s academic development.