Take Home Technology: Bridging the Homework Gap for American Children
16 Pages Posted: 16 Mar 2018 Last revised: 20 Sep 2018
Date Written: March 15, 2018
The 21st century American classroom allows bookless-reading, chalk-free virtual blackboards, and the extension of lectures beyond the time and space of a school period. Public-private partnerships, e-rate funding, and local policy mandates diffuse technology throughout schools to prepare children for 21st century jobs. Some districts outfit each child with a computer or tablet, but a problem arises when policy interventions cease to be in effect when the school day ends. In fact, 20% of schoolchildren in America cannot access the Internet at home. They find themselves stuck in what Horrigan (2015) has dubbed “The Homework Gap”: these children cannot complete their homework after the school day has ended because they lack home broadband. Programs to eliminate the Homework Gap by extending access in schools and libraries are still inaccessible to some families. Many families have working parents who cannot travel with children to access sites or face mobility limits. Even for those who can, the reality of family life grants a short window of time between the cessation of a school day, a child’s meal and bed time, and the end of business hours. Exacerbating this, some public libraries limit the time a patron may use a computer per day per day, or shut off WiFi networks after the library has closed. This project examines two novel solutions to gaps in access that represent new programs that afford home-based access. The first, a ConnectEd initiative to give parents access to the Internet at home through mobile hotspot lending in the New York Public Library (NYPL). ConnectEd Hotspot lending was the second wave of NYPL Hotspot lending, available only to parents with children in public schools. The second program, a new partnership between Mobile Beacon and PCs for People entitled ‘Bridging the Gap’, distributed free desktop computers and low cost cellular hotspots during a one-day event in Austin, Texas. Bridging the Gap partnered with local non-profits and the city of Austin to find recipients. Both of these programs expound the benefits of digital inclusion efforts and extend the possibilities of public-private partnerships that afford children the chance to succeed in school. Through quantitative survey data and qualitative focus groups, this research investigates 1) parental perspectives on the expectations present from modern educational institutions regarding technology, homework, and what parents must provide their children; 2) what it “feels like” for parents to lack access and the labor parents undertake to bridge the Homework Gap; 3) parental digital literacy; and 4) operational details from both programs. Data collection is still ongoing and will conclude in April 2018, but preliminary findings suggest immense perceived value of home-based access for families who normally would not be able to afford access. The focus group data reveal myriad ways that parents manage data due to the fact that they report it is the only way their children can be successful in school. Parents feel empowered by home technology to take part in their child’s education, creating multi-generational digital engagement and expounding the benefits of e-rate and local technology policy initiatives.
Keywords: Digital Divide, Digital Inclusion, Homework Gap, Broadband Access
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation