The internet is something most of us take for granted. We look up recipes, stay connected to friends and family, and research many different topics. More and more devices such as phones, e-readers, and MP3 players connect
to the internet. And many students use the internet on a regular basis to do research for papers and other school assignments. In addition to the internet, many students use programs such as word processing programs, drawing programs and photo shop programs.
It should be reassuring that more and more students are using the computer. That is until you look at statistics in the states that perform worst where education is concerned. Recent statistics out of Louisiana, which routinely ranks near the bottom in terms of education and graduation rates, show that between 32 to 40 percent of students do not have access to computers or internet at home.
For a whole generation of parents and grandparents that number may not seem too alarming, after all, they managed to go to school, even to college and advanced degrees without internet access. But the world has changed. In years past, one expense that many parents incurred early in their child’s life was the purchase of an encyclopedia set. As the computer and internet became a household fixture, many families replaced the purchase of encyclopedias with internet access. It could be argued that students with computer and internet access at home have an unfair advantage over students who do not have that access.
Consider the student who does have internet access at home. With a five page report due, that student sits in their own home, pulls up the internet on the computer, and at their fingertips have thousands of sources from which to gather information. After collecting his or her data, this student types in the report, giving little care to the correct spelling or grammar, since both of those are easy enough to fix with an adequate word processing program. Finally, the corrected research paper is printed out and tucked into a folder to be turned in.
In comparison the student who does not have computer and internet access at home has to find a source to gather information from for the paper. The library might be a good source for that, but first the student must secure a ride to the library. If that student is lucky, she can then use library resources. This is a much slower process, requiring more time. Some students might then wait in line for computer time at the library, with hopes of getting time to enter their report and print it out. However, computer resources at the library are limited, and not everyone will have the time or opportunity to type in their report. This means that this student will then spend additional time hand-writing the report. In addition, this student will not have the benefit of grammar and spell checker software.
The contrast between the time spend for each of these students to complete the same report is startling. The depth of research will not be equal for these two students, nor will the grammatical and spelling accuracy. This puts the student without computer and internet access at a decided disadvantage before the paper is even graded. Because of those disadvantages, the technologically challenged student may fall behind simply because it takes more time to complete assignments, and that additional time spent will take time away from the study of other subjects.
Over the course of a student’s elementary, middle and high school years this disadvantage will probably be cumulative and may also lead to lower self-esteem, as grades may slip, or at best require more work, and longer hours to remain competitive with other students who have technological advantages such as home computer and internet access.
In a time when we are blaming teachers for poor performance, and in states that score low in academics, maybe
one way to improve the standing of students and the states in general is to look at the gap between the students who have home computer and internet access and those who do not. It is beyond the scope of this writing to suggest a solution to this dilemma, however it is interesting to consider that home computer and internet access might contribute to improved grades, and ultimately high academic performance within a state.