The Washington Post

Survey finds gap in Internet access between rich, poor students

Correction: A previous version of this story said half of students in higher-income familes have access to the Internet at home. The Pew Report found half of teachers of higher-income families say that all or almost all of their students have access to the digital tools they need at home.

Technology has become essential to middle school and high school learning, but a gap in access to the Internet between the rich and poor is leading to troubling disparities in education, according to a survey of teachers.

Students depend strongly on the Web to find information and complete their assignments. The vast majority of teachers say they also rely on sites such as Wikipedia and social media to find teaching resources and materials, connect with other teachers and interact with parents, according to a survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The findings come as educators debate the role of technology in classrooms, which pose great advantages for students to research and find information. But three-quarters of teachers surveyed also said Google and other search engines have conditioned students to expect to find information quickly and easily and discourage children from using a wide range of sources for research, according to the report.

But even as many schools race to adopt tablets, e-readers and cell phones for their course work, those technologies are more widely available to middle- and higher-income students and schools.

Half of all teachers of higher-income students say that all or almost all of their students have access to the digital tools they need at home. The figure drops to 20 percent among teachers of middle-income students and just 3 percent among teachers of the poorest students, according to the survey of 2,462 teachers by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in cooperation with the College Board and National Writing Project.

The growing disparity of Internet access is leading to a gap in performance, about 56 percent of teachers said. About seven in 10 teachers say their students now rely on the Internet to complete their assignments.

“Teachers whose students come from the lowest income households feel they are at a disadvantage,” said Kristen Purcell, an associate director of research at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Smartphones are used by three-quarters of all teachers in their classroom, making the device as important to learning as laptops and computers.

Use of cell phones, however, has caused some consternation among educators. Seven out of 10 teachers say managing a student’s cell phone use and other digital tools can be problematic and distracting.

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Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.
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