Digital Divide Is 'Major Challenge' In Teaching Low-Income Students, Survey Finds

A girl surfs on the web on her computer on her computer on February 27, 2013 in Chisseaux near Tours, central France.  AFP PH
A girl surfs on the web on her computer on her computer on February 27, 2013 in Chisseaux near Tours, central France. AFP PHOTO/ ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, Pew released a report called "How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms," which surveyed 2,462 American schoolteachers about digital media use in their classrooms. Pew's most disturbing finding: Low-income students disproportionally lack access to broadband Internet at school and at home, a trend teachers say is frustrating for students -- and limits teachers' own capabilities in the classroom.

The survey, which reaffirms other findings on the digital divide, reveals that 56 percent of teachers who work with low-income students say that their students' lack of access to digital technology is a "major challenge" to using quality online resources in their lessons. The Washington Post, which reported on the findings earlier Thursday, notes that 3 percent of low-income students have access to Internet at home, in contrast to 50 percent of higher-income students.

Those without available Internet at home may take creative measures to gain online access: Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on low-income students with no home Internet who used the Wi-Fi provided by McDonald's and Starbucks for schoolwork. Other students may use local public libraries for Internet access, but many libraries have closed due to a lack of funds. Those that remain may have computer time limits.

Low-income school districts trying to keep their students connected are themselves increasingly resorting to creative measures. David Akridge, the technology director for the public school system in Mobile County, Ala., told the Wall Street Journal that he is going to map Mobile County's free public Wi-Fi and plans to encourage nearby businesses to create more hotspots for students. "That's how we need to do it now," he told the paper. "But I don't think it's a permanent solution to have everyone go to businesses to do that."

Even in well-connected urban areas, a broadband connection costs an average of $38 in top U.S. cities. Meanwhile, customers in rural areas, who are dependent on satellite services, can pay as much as $80 for a month's connection.

Experts say that a lack of competition between Internet service providers keeps connection prices high. Susan Crawford, the former special assistant for science and technology to the White House, recently told journalist and commentator Bill Moyers that the U.S. government doesn't advocate competition and that telecommunications companies are encouraged to "gouge" the rich and neglect the poor.