Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Scary thought: Some Kids Don't Have Internet Access at Home

The media often highlight the children and teens who spend excessive amounts of time online. But what about the kids who don't have the chance to spend any time online at home?

A UK campaign group Mind the Gap is raising awareness of a sizable minority of children who are not able to use the internet at home.
"government statistics show that over 700,000 children cannot get online at home" - Mind the Gap
 In the US the Pew Internet & American Life Project Teen Internet Access Demographics data also demonstrates that pupils access to the internet is not universal and that it does vary based on household income and also ethnicity.

This is scary! My own children benefit so much from having access to the internet even at a young age, the idea of children not being able to research information for homework, or just for interest sends a shiver down my spine.

My primary school aged children are so used to the idea that if you don't know something, you look it up online. When my older son was 6 he managed to find videos that gave opposing views about whether there was any historical evidence for the City of Atlantis. Only this morning we were able to answer his question about whether the month of March was related to the planet Mars. The amount of knowledge they are accumulating this way is very significant over time.

Yes, of course books can be useful too, but I suspect that the houses that don't have internet access (unless for ideological reasons) are also lacking in books. And a library of physical books doesn't come close to the range and searchability of the web.

It's also easy to encourage kids' interests by finding more relevant information online at just the point they are interested in it. That's something that's much harder to do at school where kids all need to be following the same topics much of the time. Kids learn so much more when they are interested in a subject, and in my experience their interests can change very quickly, often they would have moved on before we managed to visit a library. 

And of course for older children homework starts to rely on children doing their own research, creating documents and accessing online resources. Not being able to do that clearly puts children at a disadvantage.

I grew up in pre-internet times and in a house where there were few books. I would have loved the internet! I had such limited access to information. But that was in a time when many of my peers would have been in a similar position. It's a very different proposition to imagine children in that situation today in affluent countries.

It's easy to imagine that in the age of tablet computers, every family has internet access.  But of course it's also an age where increasing numbers of families have to rely on food banks to feed their families. You can see that for some families the set up cost and monthly fees for an internet connection are difficult to justify.

I'm very glad to see Mind the Gap trying to improve this situation and will be looking into the situation at my own local school.

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