Gone are the days when the only supplies students needed were pens, pencils and paper, when doing a research paper meant a trip to the stacks of the local library, and a visual presentation meant poster board and glue sticks.Today, school work often means time behind a computer monitor. Google has replaced the card catalog and microfilm machines. Class projects usually involve Powerpoints, Prezis, or movies shot with a Flip video and edited on Final Cut.
The use of technology also extends to the classroom, where a growing number of schools are incorporating iPads, smartphones, and virtual learning into the curriculum. Teachers use web pages and online grade books to communicate with students and parents, and many districts are using online textbooks.
The emphasis on technology is designed to equip students for a digitally-focused future and engage kids raised in the fast-paced, multi-tasking world of iPhones and YouTube. But it may also be creating a digital divide between students who have easy access to the latest technological gadgets, and those who don’t.
For many Latino families, the odds of falling on the wrong side of the digital divide are especially high.
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According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos are less likely than whites or blacks to have a home broadband connection. They are also less likely than whites to have Internet access or a cell phone.
About 76% of Latinos owned a cell phone in 2010, compared to 85% of whites and 79% of blacks, a Pew survey found. When it comes to cell phone usage, young Latinos don’t fall far behind their non-Latino counterparts. According to Pew, about 79% of Latinos between 16 and 25 say they use a cell phone, about 50 percent text message their friends daily, and 45% use the phone to call friends. Although smart phones allow web browsing and other computer functions, many school districts don’t allow the use of phones in classrooms.
The gap is more striking when it comes to Internet access; only 55 percent of Latinos had a home Internet connection in 2010, compared to 75% of whites. In addition, the survey found that only 45% of Latinos had a broadband connection, compared to 65% of whites and 52% of blacks.
In a school culture increasingly dependent on technology, the lack of Internet access or a home computer can impede student achievement.
About 75% of faculty regularly use technology and 38% of students use technology in almost every class, according to a survey of more than 1,000 high school students, faculty and IT staff conducted by CDW Government LLC, a leading provider of technology solutions to business, government, education and healthcare.
Computer access and training “can help parents gain access to lots of different ways to help their child. It empowers the family,” said Philip Vlahakis, managing director of development and communications of Computers for Youth, a non-profit organization that provides low-income families with computers, software and training. “The world is moving fast. Digital learning is out there and making an impact.”
Computers for Youth, which has served more than 40,000 families since 1999 and runs a website with free educational games and videos (PowerMyLearning.com), has studied the impact of computer access on student achievement.
Their research has shown that “home computing activities boost students’ academic engagement, consistently increasing their self-reported levels of confidence, interest and effort.”
In a study of 174 sixth- and seventh-grade New York City public school students in the Computers for Youth program, 70% said that having a home computer helped them improve in language arts, while 68% said it helped in mathematics.
In addition, 70% of students in the program said that “having a computer-based Home Learning Center helped them become more curious and feel more confident.”
However, even families without a home computer or access to the Internet can find ways to help their children keep with the digital demands of 21st century classroom. Take note:
- Local public libraries usually offer free use of computers and Internet.
- Neighborhood community centers may also provide computers and classes for students and their parents.
- Most school libraries have computer labs available for student use.
- If you don’t have access to computers, video cameras, or other tech gadgets, let your child’s teacher know. In most cases, they will allow alternate assignments or have class equipment students can borrow.