When we think of youth and technology, most of us usually envision a symbiosis so immersed it doesn’t seem possible that a portion of our youth face barriers to becoming technologically engaged. Society promotes the image of a highly ‘connected’ generation, of technology serving as the greatest tool for empowering youth. And while this might be true on a large scale, it neglects those youth who are placed at an extreme disadvantage and are unable to access technology or use technology in a way their more privileged peers take for granted.
A recent article from newsmagazine Catalyst Chicago reports on this silent problem as it shares findings from a Consortium on Chicago School Research study on technology use among Chicago Public School (CPS) students. According the report, while the majority of CPS middle school and high school students have some type of access to the Internet (whether by home computer, Smartphone, tablet, or some other device—the study did not look at how much students used computers in school), only half of them use it regularly to complete academic work. In fact, the report found that the type of school and its level of academics play an integral role in how frequently students use technology for school work. Selective enrollment high schools, magnet schools, and higher-performing schools tend to integrate technology more into their curriculum and thus require their students to engage with technology the most to do academic work. Charter schools, on the other hand, are the least likely to require their students to use technology at least once a week.
The study also found that boys and high risk students (special education students, poor students, and those who are over-age for their grade) use technology less than their peers, and that white, Asian, and multi-racial students use technology more for school than black, Native American, and Latino students. What’s more, the amount of time teachers spend using computers as well as the support provided by the school’s administration correlates with the amount of time students spend using technology on their own to complete homework.
While the situation has been improving within the last several years, the findings of the report do point to a persistent divide among CPS students. However, CPS officials claim they are taking steps to address the divide, with more than 1,000 teachers recently attending a “Tech talk” and administrators and teachers attending a Leadership Tech Summit last summer; the district has also been introducing Science, Engineering, Math, and Technology programs in multiple schools.
Despite these efforts, researchers conclude that academic use of technology by students “remains quite low.” We need to acknowledge this digital divide in CPS so that a more comprehensive action plan can be implemented to truly unite technology and youth.