Digital Divide Separates Students

AP, September 5, 2006

Washington—Many more white children use the Internet than do Hispanic and black students, a reminder that going online is hardly a way of life for everyone.

Two of every three white students—67 percent—use the Internet, but less than half of blacks and Hispanics do, according to federal data released Tuesday. For Hispanics the figure is 44 percent; for blacks, it’s 47 percent.

“This creates incredible barriers for minorities,” said Mark Lloyd, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert on how communications influence civil rights.

Not using the Internet “narrows their ability to even think about the kind of work they can be doing,” Lloyd said. “It doesn’t prepare them for a world in which they’re going to be expected to know how to do these things.”

The new data come from the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the Education Department. It is based on a national representative survey of households in 2003.

Overall, 91 percent of students in nursery school through 12th grade use computers; 59 percent use the Internet.

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A total of 54 percent of white students use the Internet at home, compared with 26 percent of Hispanic and 27 percent of black youngsters. Limited access can erode a student’s ability to research assignments, explore college scholarships or just get comfortable going online.

Kids use the Internet most often for completing school assignments, the new study says. But they also count on it for e-mail, sending instant messages and playing games.

The racial divide in computer usage is tied to broader problems, including poverty in black and Latino communities and even a cultural reluctance to use the Internet, Lloyd said.

Among other students, 58 percent of Asian children and 47 percent of American Indian students use the Internet.

The numbers are growing for all groups of students—a bit of good news, Lloyd said.

“We should celebrate that, with caution,” he said. “The sky is not falling. The numbers are improving. But there is still a gap, and we need to find a way to address it.”

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