Study: Racial Digital Divide Lingers Among US Schoolchildren

White children are far more likely to use the Internet than Hispanic and black children, according to a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics.

The study, based on a national representative of households in 2003, reveals that 91 percent of students in nursery school through 12th grade use computers, but only 59 percent use the Internet.

Further, the report showed, two of every three white students — 67 percent — use the Internet, but less than half of black and Hispanic students go online. Only 44 percent of Hispanics and 47 percent of blacks use the Internet.

“The challenge conducting any research among youth is that the landscape with respect to technology is changing at an even more rapid pace than it is for adults,” Mary Madden, a research specialist at Pew Internet & American Life, told TechNewsWorld. “This is data from 2003 and things have changed a lot since then, but they’ve done a very thorough analysis and the date should not overshadow the findings.”

The Digital Divide

The statistics clearly demonstrate what many are calling a digital divide between racial groups in the United States. Computer and Internet use continue to be divided along both demographic and socioeconomic lines.

Students living with highly educated parents are more likely to use these technologies than those living with less well educated parents, and those living in households with higher family incomes are more likely to use computers and the Internet than those living in lower income households.

The gap between students whose parents have the least and the most education is similar to the income gap; while 35 percent of those whose parents did not complete high school use computers at home, 88 percent of those living with at least one parent who has attended graduate school use a computer at home.

Schools Bridge the Gap

Schools have taken steps to close the gap, but on the homefront access to the Internet is not universal. According to the federal data, 54 percent of white students use the Internet at home, compared with 26 percent of Hispanic and 27 percent of black students.

The report also demonstrates that technology usage begins early. About two-thirds of children in nursery school and 80 percent of kindergartners use computers. Approximately 97 percent of students in grades 9-12 use these technologies.

Private school students are more likely than public school students to use computers at home, while public school students are more likely to use computers and the Internet at school and overall.

Future Studies

Pew is planning future studies on this so-called digital divide. In past reports, Pew has revealed that the quality of an Internet connection users have is an even more important factor in bridging the gap than their experience with technology.

“At school, most users have high-speed access, but at home that is a different matter. That’s an important point of analysis because if you are a child that has high-speed access at school and you have dial-up at home, then you are going to be at a considerable disadvantage,” Madden explained. “The quality of the connection is a big question that we will be examining in future studies.”

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