Feeds

Giving poor kids computers, internet makes them stupider

'Digital divide' efforts counter-productive, say profs

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Hundreds of efforts to reduce the so-called "digital divide" could be in trouble today, as new research has revealed that giving children universal home computers and internet access actually widens achievement gaps in maths and reading between rich and poor - and causes an overall skills decline across society to boot.

The new study was conducted by professors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy in North Carolina. The profs used data from the period 2000 to 2005, when the presence of home computers and broadband internet availability increased massively across their survey area of North Carolina.

"We cut off the study in 2005, so we weren't getting into the Facebook and Twitter generation," says Vigdor. "The technology was much more primitive than that. IM (instant messaging) software was popular then, and it's been one thing after the other since then. Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn't share that perception."

Sampling more than 150,000 children, Vigdor and Ladd compared maths and reading scores before and after acquisition of a home computer and against other students without one. They were also able to see the effects of broadband internet as it rolled out across the survey area.

There were already significant differences in kids' achievement across racial and socioeconomic lines. People often worry that such gaps will be enhanced as richer families acquire computers and internet connections and poorer households don't, which has led to many initiatives by governments, charities etc designed to get digital technologies into the hands of even the poorest.

According to Vigdor and Ladd, this doesn't work. They write:

[The] evidence suggests that providing universal access to home computers and high-speed internet access would broaden, rather than narrow, math and reading achievement gaps.

The profs suggest that this is because a kid in a disadvantaged home given a computer and internet access will tend to be poorly supervised and use it mainly for gaming, social networking or other timewasting online/computer activities rather than buckling down and doing homework. Thus computered-up poor children actually become dumber than they would have been without the tech.

This syndrome was much less marked or absent in wealthier households where kids are more closely supervised, but so severe was the negative effect of technology on North Carolina that overall the state's maths and reading scores dropped by "modest but statistically significant" amounts as digital technology arrived.

With many public and private bodies around the world - not least the two profs' own university - madly giving out computers and seeking to achieve universal net access right now, the report (published here, subscription required) will be sobering reading for many. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
Major problems beset UK ISP filth filters: But it's OK, nobody uses them
It's almost as though pr0n was actually rather popular
Microsoft unsheathes cheap Android-killer: Behold, the Lumia 530
Say it with us: I'm King of the Landfill-ill-ill-ill
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
Apple orders huge MOUNTAIN of 80 MILLION 'Air' iPhone 6s
Bigger, harder trouser bulges foretold for fanbois
US freemium mobile network eyes up Europe
FreedomPop touts 'free' calls, texts and data
'Two-speed internet' storm turns FCC.gov into zero-speed website
Deadline for comments on net neutrality shake-up extended to Friday
Oh girl, you jus' didn't: Level 3 slaps Verizon in Netflix throttle blowup
Just hook us up to more 10Gbps ports, backbone biz yells in tit-for-tat spat
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.