Digital Divide Traps 5 Million Families in ‘Homework Gap’

Seven in 10 teachers make assignments that require Internet access, but many lower income students don't have a Wi-Fi connection at home, Pew Research shows.

Digital Divide Traps 5 Million Families in ‘Homework Gap’ Photo (cc) by Michael Bentley

America’s digital divide has caught 5 million families with students at home in a “Homework Gap,” according to newly released figures from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

The Pew analysis of U.S. Census data found that 82.5 percent of the 29 million American homes with school-age children have broadband access. That’s about 9 percentage points higher than average for all households, Pew noted.

Low-income households make up a disproportionate share of the 5 million without broadband access.

Pew Research Center shows the number of households with school age children and their broadband accessPew Research Center shows the number of households with school-age children and their broadband access

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who has made closing the Homework Gap a priority, thanked Pew for doing its homework on the issue and explained the finding’s significance:

“There was a time when doing basic schoolwork required no more than a little bit of quiet, a clear workspace, and a pencil. No more. Today, 7 in 10 teachers assign homework that requires Internet access. Kids may be connected in the classroom, but if they are disconnected at home getting basic schoolwork done is hard. Researching a paper and applying for scholarships and jobs is tough without reliable broadband access. … We need to bridge this gap and fix this problem because our shared economic future depends on it.”

Later this year, the FCC is expected to begin overhauling the Lifeline Program, an initiative that subsidizes telephone subscriptions for low-income households, so that it would also cover broadband.

Almost 1 in 3 households with incomes below $50,000 and with children ages 6 to 17 do not have a high-speed Internet connection at home. This low-income group makes up about 40 percent of all families with school-age children in the United States, according to the Census’ American Community Survey.

Only 8.4 percent of households with annual incomes of more than $50,000 lack a broadband Internet connection at home.

How do you think the digital gap should be addressed? Or should it? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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