Computer and Internet Use by Students in 2003

Matthew DeBell and Chris Chapman
National Center for Education Statistics
September 2006

As districts and schools make sensitive decisions about how best to allocate taxpayer dollars, questions arise over the usefulness of sinking large sums into technology (see "Luddite oversight," above). Mostly, these technology questions involve computers and how best to integrate them into classroom lessons. This report, which relies on aging (2003) data, summarizes student computer and internet use. Its findings seem to support those arguing for greater integration of computers in schools. That's because a digital divide still exists (although it's declining) between students of different races and socio-economic backgrounds. For example, black students are 7 percent less likely than their white peers to use a computer, and 21 percent less likely to use the internet. Eighty-four percent of poor students use computers, while 93 percent of students who are not poor do (the gap in internet use is even larger). The report also concludes that schools are a help in bridging the digital divide. Twenty percent of students access the internet at only one location (for most, it is school), and of them, 60 percent are members of families in poverty. Understanding computers and being able to use technology with ease is becoming a requirement for success not only in high-tech jobs, but at the university level and in many types of so-called "unskilled" labor positions. Students without such knowledge are at a disadvantage. On a more positive note, the gender divide of the 1990s (when boys were likelier to use computers than girls) has disappeared. This report contains other interesting findings about how students use computers, when they start using them, and suchlike. It's too bad that, in an arena where change occurs so rapidly, the latest numbers we have are three years old. The report is available here.

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