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Study: Education Is No. 1 Reason for Tech Purchases by Many Low-Income Families

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Whether it’s so their kids can do homework, play educational games or work with classmates on school projects, many low-income parents are motivated to purchase technology to further their children’s learning, according to a study released today by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Based on a nationally representative survey of low-income parents with children between the ages of 6 to 13, the report found most parents saw academic value in technology and named education as the No. 1 reason for purchasing desktop computers, laptops and tablets.

Victoria Rideout, co-author of the study, said Tuesday, ”One of the things I did find interesting is that for families that are connected – whether they’re low-income or parents have low educational attainment – they’re using technology in robust ways for educational purposes. It’s not just a higher-income family situation now.”

It’s happening across all parent income and education levels for those families who are connected to the internet, she said. And in a closer look at that data, the study shows immigrant Hispanic families are the least connected to technology and its educational benefits. Fifty-one percent have Internet access only on their cell phones or not at all, compared to 24 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics, 26 percent of blacks and 21 percent of low-income whites. The most common reason for not having Internet access was the expense.

Not surprisingly, kids whose families were in the lowest income bracket (less than $25,000 annually) used computers and the Internet less frequently than children whose parents made $45,000 to $65,000 a year. Hispanic children, especially those in Spanish-dominant homes, were less likely than white and black children to use these technologies daily.

The researchers assert that this digital divide is likely to have long-term consequences for children and exacerbate both educational and economic inequality.

“Today, those most in need of finding services, obtaining jobs, and increasing educational opportunities are the least likely to have full access to the digital technologies that can help provide a level paying field,” the report states.

The report also included parents’ thoughts on technology usage in their children’s schools in the wake of the recent shifts to online standardized tests and personalized learning. The overwhelming majority, 80 percent, feel technology in the classroom improves the quality of education their children are receiving, and 76 percent believe the amount of time spent on a computer at school is just right.

However, 75 percent of foreign-born Hispanic parents said they worried classroom technology could cause teachers to know less about their children’s individual needs — a misgiving especially prevalent among parents whose children were English-language learners and should benefit from more personalized instruction.

“I think that technology innovation and educational innovation are now very closely linked to each other, but I think there’s room to be thoughtful,” said Rideout’s co-author Vikki Katz, suggesting schools should look for ways to use technology to enrich relationships that are important to students’ learning, such as the student-parent and parent-teacher relationships.

And across the board, enhanced partnerships could be the fix. According to the report, ”The solution to this challenge will require innovative partnerships and new commitments aligning government, industry, education, and community leaders – including families themselves.”