Should the Digital Divide Be Closed?

More evidence that technology doesn’t always equal higher test scores: a new working paper by Jacob L. Vigdor and Helen F. Ladd examines the effects of home computer and internet access on test scores. Consistent with the research of Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches, Vigdor and Ladd found that “the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores.” The authors also found that internet access had differential effects across student groups: “The evidence is consistent with the view that internet service, and technology more broadly, is put to more productive use in households with more effective parental monitoring of child behavior.” Their findings raise questions about policies aimed at closing the “digital divide.”[%comments]


Terry

Though, it would be nice if the students could use a computer (along with being able to pass a standardized test) once they get out in the real world.

Jake

It isn't possible to close the digital divide in any case. More money will always mean better technology, but it's true that better technology (e.g. having a TV) doesn't necessarily mean a better mind. An interesting discussion on the technological divide:
http://www.pandalous.com/topic/the_technological_divide

ElvisInMiami

This discusses computers, but what about television, or cell phones? We are shifting away from traditional computers towards mobile and integrated computers.

The other point they make is proper parenting and supervision has positive results (with the internet.) I think that is the case in just about anything, not specific to computers and internet.

If computers are used as a tool (for example word processing) instead of an entertainment device it becomes less of a problem. Same with television, cell phones and even cars.

Toby Fee

It's the message, not the medium.

It is good to identify that a computer, all things being equal, is just another possible distraction from school work. The mis-perception that a PC and an ISP is one that deserves to be smashed.

But I find the blankness of the term 'computers' worrying when these articles are excerpted, to me the money quote from Malamud and Pop-Elechesand is:

"relatively few parents report having educational
software installed on their computer, and few children report using the computer for educational
purposes." (p. 9)

When we encourage books in the home (which, yes yes, are correlated more strongly that causal) we generally pick things that are amusing and fun but also marginally educational, and certainly teach reading. If we went down to the local paper recyclers, and picked up Bonsai Gardening for Dummies, Going Rogue, and Hagar the Horrible 1971-72 for our kids, could we really expect them to learn anything but how (hopefully) to read?

So this still sounds like a study of social engineering with poor traction: the purpose is to put computers in homes running educational software, the result is computers in homes running YouTube.

Imagine if I used a story on the limited educational value of reading 'Twilight' with the headline:

Should we bother giving kids books?

The only year I ever did really badly in school (grade 3), books were the cause: my parents bought me a stack of the 'Encyclopedia Brown' mysteries, and my sneaking them into class got me sent to the office a few times, and definitely kept my mind off math.

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Abhishek

Digital divide in countries like India and those of Africa are massive.Technology is bridging the gap somewhat through innovative solutions in telecom and information http://bit.ly/ccgLTC

balls

I think it comes down to: not having a computer is a huge disadvantage. Having a computer, doesn't mean anything if all you plan to do is goof around on facebook.

Like, if you have no access to education, your chances of performing well on standardized tests is close to zero, however, just because you do go to school, doesn't mean you'll do well, but you certainly have a better chance than poor old Pepe who raises goats in a remote area of Oaxaca.

MikeM

We should not stop until all students score exactly the same on all tests.

Jeremy

I have to echo the commenter stating that it is not surprising that parenting changed the impact of the PC. A computer can exist anywhere on a continuum between box-in-the-corner to favorite toy to implement from which I'll unleash world domination. The person seated behind it will probably opt for toy if nobody tells them otherwise, because one of the easiest things to learn on a computer is how to use it to waste time.

Joshua Northey

Believe it or not employers are looking for skills beyond math and reading. I mean math and reading are nice, but everyone who is employable generally has acceptable math and reading skills.

I know schools don't care since it isn't tested for, but for the job I am currently recruiting for anyone over the age of 35 is automatically eliminated because it is basically impossible their computer skills are strong enough. How is that for a digital divide?

If you made the test math/reading/and ability to design a webpage OR effectively use a database I bet the correlation between computer ownership and scores becomes wildly positive.

Any child who isn't using a computer regularly by age 10 will be crippled in the future economy.

James

Did I read, "More evidence that technology doesn't always equal higher test scores"? Does technology *ever* equal higher test scores? Next up, more evidence that drinking poison doesn't always equal better health...

Panem et Circanses

A third variable situation, with not the computers themselves causing lower test scores, but the social class, greater wealth, greater incomes, higher numbers of books, and higher intelligence that correlate with the computers being much more pertinent.

Carolyn

Joshua @9 - "for the job I am currently recruiting for anyone over the age of 35 is automatically eliminated because it is basically impossible their computer skills are strong enough"

Really? I call bull on this, and not only because I know several people finishing computer science PhDs at over 35.

People who are 40 have likely had computers around their entire working life. Hell, people who are 50 might have been they young folks keen to get computers into their workspaces. I haven't met many people in their 40s and 50s who can't figure out how to post a video on YouTube, call people on skype, or otherwise use a computer.

Honestly, if using an application is terribly difficult, I think you've got horrible designers rather than a skills problem. Computational thinking, it would be nice to get earlier into the curriculum, but we have to figure out what that is first.

Chip

Does this say more about the computers, or about the tests?

Eric M. Jones

The techno-optimists of earlies ages expected everyone to get a great education from books, radio, TV, and computers. The public wanted music, radio plays, sitcoms, and video games.

People pay for what they consider valuable. Society is best served if everyone does the best they can reasonably do...computers or no computers. Not everyone needs to know HTML.

Howard Mahler

Learning how to use computers and becoming familiar with the internet, the earlier the age the better, are skills which current children will find very useful for the rest of their lives. This will give them a competitive advantage when they enter the job market. When they enter the job market, this will be like literacy was during the last century.
When drawing conclusions from such studies, we should not ignore this very important point.

EFM

And a newspaper is a wonderful learning tool, unless you opt to read only the comics.

Hitek

I've been doing a little thinking on this subject lately. I had wondered, if, in this day and age, a superior education is viewed as less of an advantage than it once was, and therefore, not considered important. I also wondered if, were my previous statement proven to be true, this could be due to the fact that a higher education was once thought to guarantee a successful career, while more recently this has proven to be less and less true. I see examples of this every day. Just yesterday I was flipping through the TV channels, and came across a show(Wife Swap, I think) where a mother was "home schooling" her children while the substitute father stood by watching. The mother(not a very well-spoken person) told her children that "C.O.D." meant that a delivered package had to be paid for in cash upon presentation. When the scoffing substitute father laughingly asked the mother if she even knew what "C.O.D." meant, she said "No", and that it wasn't important anyhow, and then proceeded to get very angry at him for expecting her to know such things, being the sole educator of her own children. Amazing.

Not surprising, in times where expecting even a mediocre mastery of spelling, sentence structure, and punctuation on the internet will instantly get you labeled a "Grammar Nazi".

How very sad...

^^^@Joshua - I'm 37 and I have been building electronic circuits and programming computers since I was 10 years old. Is 27 years enough experience for a 37 year old?

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Joshua Northey

"Really? I call bull on this, and not only because I know several people finishing computer science PhDs at over 35."

Yes but the 35 year olds smart enough to do that would never work for the wages I am offering. 25 year olds will. Those Phds going to work for 15-20/hr? No but I can find 25 year olds just as good on a computer as the Phds who don't even have a degree.

"People who are 40 have likely had computers around their entire working life. Hell, people who are 50 might have been they young folks keen to get computers into their workspaces. I haven't met many people in their 40s and 50s who can't figure out how to post a video on YouTube, call people on skype, or otherwise use a computer."

You clearly don't work in my office then. All the over 40 employees are pretty useless digitally, and even the over 30 ones are pretty bad. Of course my office is in a semi-rural area (local economy is probably 90,000, 20,000 in town) so it might be a bit different demographic than a big city.

The applications we need them to use are all MS products, and they are not horribly difficult. I think you are underestimating the amount of 40-50 year olds who can barely work outlook. I get asked how to open attachments regularly, sometimes by the same people. I get frantic calls from people at hotels tell me their laptops are broken (didn't enter wifi password).

There definitely are people that age who are very good with computers, but for example for the current position I am looking for I would bet 85% of the applicants do not have the computer skills required and they are listed as 20% of the job description. And mostly this is simply a function of age.

The business world revolves around people with HS, 2yr, and occasionally 4yr degrees, not Phds.

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avirr

to Joshua Northey:

Your sample size is wayyy too small and your situation wayyy too specific to make grandiose judgments like these. "Business" is bigger than that.

Perhaps you mean: "In my area, many older people don't have the computer skills for simple office work at low wages."

But in *my* area, many older people are doing complex creative technical work at Google, Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other companies you haven't heard of. And who do you think wrote the iPhone software? It's a mix of people, some in their twenties, some in their sixties.

The world is bigger than your town.

Joshua Northey

"But in *my* area, many older people are doing complex creative technical work at Google, Facebook, Twitter, and thousands of other companies you haven't heard of. And who do you think wrote the iPhone software? It's a mix of people, some in their twenties, some in their sixties."

I suspect you are the one with the sample issues. Look part of my job is working on labor market analysis. I have a good handle on what businesses across the state are dealing with.

I am not saying that there are no 40+ year olds with computer skills. Just that at say age 50 its 10%, 40 15%, 30 40%, and then suddenly in the 20s about 80%. So rather than hoping this particular resume from a 50 year old is one of the 1% of the UNEMPLOYED 50 year olds who has good computer skills is unemployed is a complete waste of my time.

My sample is small, but it is a diverse group of people since we work with hundreds of businesses. I suspect you work in an industry that attracts above average people, maybe even a business the employs predominantly college graduates? Most people in the US don't even have a college degree, but you would never think that from a lot of postings you see online because posters social networks skew so heavily towards increased education.

There is this huge segment of the population that either has no experience with computers or uses yahoo mail and can maybe find a youtube video or cnn/fox news and that is about it.

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