Internet Affordability is a Major Barrier to School Success

Access to the Internet remains a cost problem for many students. In 2015, 35 percent of lower-income households with school-age children didn't have a broadband connection at home, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

by Kim Doleatto, Sarasota Herald-Tribune / October 14, 2019
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(TNS) — Most parents learn that Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system, and tutorials on common core math are indispensable. Few manage to do so without internet access.

Since the World Wide Web galvanized the world more than two decades ago, it's hard to remember life before it. But as ubiquitous as it may seem, internet access remains a luxury for many.

A luxury that can change the course of a child's academic path.

A student who can go home to a safe, quiet place where they can use the internet to do their homework is going to have better quality work than a peer who doesn't. It makes the playing field completely, uneven and it gets worse as the curriculum becomes more demanding. Students without access "fall behind," said Theodora Hanna, co-executive director of Tech Goes Home, a nonprofit serving the broader Boston area that brings computers, internet access and training to those who would otherwise go without.

In a recent survey of 1,208 K-12 teachers by Common Sense Media, four out of 10 reported they teach students who don't have access to an internet-connected computer at home, and as a result, cannot do their homework. Many teachers in Title I schools or in schools serving more than three-quarters of students of color said more than 60% of their students don't have such access.

In 2015, 35% of lower-income households with school-age children didn't have a broadband internet connection at home, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. And roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17 with incomes below $30,000 a year didn't have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6% of households earning $75,000 or more a year.

Students who have internet access are more likely to score better on math, reading and science tests not only because it allows for access to research and learning tools, but because access to high-speed internet also makes it easier for parents to engage with their child's learning. It allows them to monitor their child's grades and assignments, and reference learning resources to support their child's success at school.

Hanna points to affordability as the number one barrier.

"Paying $60-80 a month for internet is out of the question for a lot of people. Also, there's the affordability of the tech itself. Computers are still a big investment for people," she said.

She said that some older students lucky enough with a laptop go to parking lots of places like McDonald's, stick close to their school building after hours, or take a longer bus route on buses with free Wi-Fi. Others go to libraries, but "you have to wait to get on a computer, cutting into the time that could go toward the assignment. Plus, they close," she said.

"Nothing matches having it in your home where you can comfortably and safely do the work," she added.

To bridge the digital gap, some districts provide school bus hotspots or partner with nonprofits like EveryoneOn and Tech Goes Home to connect students for little to no cost.

The Comcast internet essentials program offers internet to eligible families for $10 a month, along with low-cost computers.

"It's just fundamental in this day and age," Hanna said.

This story comes from Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation and Sarasota Herald-Tribune to inform, inspire and engage the community to take action on issues related to Age-Friendly Sarasota, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, National Council on Aging's 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Suncoast Nursing Action Coalition.

©2019 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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