Technology use in US school system marked by background inequality

By March 18, 2013
children and technology

The results of a survey carried out among middle and high school teachers in the US reveal that the use of digital tools in the education process varies widely, depending to a large extent on their students’ socio-economic backgrounds.


The use of digital technology at school and throughout the learning process plays a highly significant role in the United States. A recent online survey of a sample of 2,462 middle and high school teachers published by the National Writing Project, the College Board and the Pew Research Center found that digital tools are now widely used in classrooms. Indeed, some 54% of teachers state that all or almost all their students have sufficient access to digital technologies such as a tablet or e-reader in class and 18%say this is true for their students at home. The figures show that the various parties involved – parents, teachers and schools – understand the importance of technology in the education environment.

Digital tool adoption rates depend on socio-economic background…

Teachers observe disparities between their students’ access to technology, due mainly to their socio-economic backgrounds and the type of community they live in. Only 3% of teachers whose students are mainly from very low-income backgrounds report that they have access to information and communication technology at home, compared with 19% of teachers of children from predominantly middle-class families who say the same and 52% of teachers whose classes contain students from more affluent households. This disparity is less obvious in the classroom, with 45% of the teachers of students from very low-income homes stating that they have access to modern technology at school, compared with 58% and 67% of teachers of middle-income and higher-income bracket students respectively. However, overall these differences are judged to have an impact on the teaching process.

… creating learning disparities between students

Some 41% of teachers responding to the survey stated that learning gaps between students were, according to their observations, being accentuated by disparities in access to digital tools. These technologies can help to provide a wider and richer learning process, especially with the appearance of new teaching techniques in schools, such as ‘flip teaching’ – also known as the ‘flipped classroom’ – which basically means inverting the traditional teaching process. The student will for example watch a teacher-created video at home first, and then later apply the knowledge thus acquired in practical exercises in the classroom, working with his/her teacher. This teaching model, which is acclaimed by many education professionals, of course requires access to the relevant technology at home. Last but not least, the survey shows that, in a more general way, knowledge and familiarity with the way technology works is in any case a major requirement for today’s students when they enter the world of work.



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