Divided We Learn

OPINION: Online homework is a problem for 5 million families without internet at home

How to close this stubborn gap

Imagine you’re in high school. You’re dealing with all the regular teen worries, but the real bear is this: a significant percentage of your homework demands 24/7 internet connectivity and your family doesn’t have home access.

The examples of assignments you receive that require internet access are frequent and daunting: Explain and evaluate “fake news.” Situate the current conflict with North Korea in a historical context. Identify the societal complexities that help explain the explosive growth of childhood obesity in America during the last 20 years.

If any of these were isolated assignments that might be fine, because you could likely do them during lunch or right after school. But in most cases, high school students today have several of these assignments made concurrently.

Related: New documentary explores ‘the digital divide’

These assignments, like most made by your teachers, must be emailed or dropped into your teacher’s cloud-based Google classroom by 11 p.m. Like most high school students, you’re racing to complete this assignment five minutes before it’s due. But without internet access at home, where can you safely, predictably and productively work until 11 p.m.?

Your aunt has internet access at but she lives a 40-minute bus trip across town. The public library does, but it has a 30-minute computer use limit and, as a young woman, you don’t feel comfortable there late at night. McDonald’s has free wi-fi but it’s noisy, you have to buy food and you can’t linger there forever.

Among the many challenges we now face as a nation, one receives far less attention than it deserves: America’s homework gap.

Although 70 percent of America’s teachers assign homework to be completed online, more than five million families with school-age children do not have internet connectivity at home.

This disconnect leads to dramatic – and unfortunate – effects on kids’ daily lives. Arguably the most profound effects, however, are felt by high school students, whose challenge to complete homework in safe, predictable and productive environments can have lifelong impacts on their ability to achieve their full potential.

Related: Many schools could beam the internet into students’ homes — if the bandwidth hadn’t already been sold to businesses

With few exceptions, all students are curious, want a bright future and are willing to work hard to earn it. Regardless of the color of their skin or their family’s income level, all high school students deserve access to the internet at home so that they can translate their potential into meaningful achievements.

During the last many years, governments and nonprofits have made terrific progress wiring America’s classrooms, but learning should not end when a student leaves the school building. Students should be able to continue learning wherever and whenever works best for them.

A lack of internet access at home should not be a locked gate that prevents students from achieving success in high school and life. Potential is everywhere. Opportunity not.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up here for our newsletter

John Branam is the executive director of the 1Million Project, a national effort to help one million high school students who do not have internet access at home reach their full potential by giving them devices and free high-speed internet access.

 

Letters

John Branam

John Branam is the executive director of the 1Million Project, a national effort to help one million high school students who do not have internet… See Archive

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Dear Editorial Manager,

Thank you for your article. I have a thoughtful suggestion for closing this stubborn gap, and that is, make the internet safe for minors. It appalls me that school districts are encouraging families to purchase internet devices for their children (as early as elementary school) but many have not offered sufficient education (if any at all) to parents about internet safety and constant monitoring, as technology changes. This is a valid reason for keeping kids disconnected for as long as possible, in my opinion.

Many parents remain unaware of the negative implications unsafe internet access/use has on our children and yet feel the pressure by both their child and the school district to purchase a device for the child's use. I feel that schools and our nation has a mandatory responsibility to "get the word out" and educate as many parents (English and non-English speakers) as possible about how we can make these internet devices safer at home, on the bus, and at school, so our children are not exposed to harmful content that they are not developmentally ready to receive.

You may argue that high school students are developmentally ready. If that's the case, then why is there still a rating system for movies and video games? There's a reason for this. Why should it be any different with internet access? It floors me that my son can access X-rated pornography of the most grotesque kind on YouTube, Wikipedia, and a first generation Amazon Kindle within 3 clicks, and our government allows this to go on.

How difficult would it be for our government to make it a felony offense should any manufacturer, producer or broadcaster of pornography offer unrestricted access to minors? We have to provide our id's to access X-rated material at the video store, buy alcohol, or to drive a car, so why not to access porn on the internet? The fastest growing population of porn addicts is boys aged 12-17, and MRI studies have confirmed that the same parts of the brain light up with porn addition as they do for those addicted to heroin. It has become a public health epidemic in the past 10 years. Until this issue is resolved, I am 100% for the disconnect gap. Our society needs this gap to grow, if we have any hope of protecting our youth, humanity, and moral values.

- from Anonymous, Oct 27, 2017