Report shows tech gap for high, low-income students

8:56 AM, Mar 6, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- Digital devices like tablets are popping up in more and more schools.  Teachers are using them to teach, and many students are using them for homework.

But a new study by the Pew Research Institute show this technology is creating a gap in access to the internet between high and low-income students.

One finding in the survey shows teachers of the lowest-income students are more than twice as likely as teachers of highest- income students (56% v. 21%) to say their students' lack of access to technology is a "major challenge" for their teaching.
"That's just one more deficit they suffer that their peers in the wealthier suburbs do not," said Ron Koehler, Kent ISD Assistant Superintendent.

Grand Rapids Public Schools educators are struggling to boot up decade-old computers.

"It's very difficult to bring a class in, and everyone is seating at a computer that is working. Sometimes kids go through two to three before they find one that actually works," said Gaye Tomaszewski, a teacher at GRPS' Campus Elementary.

"That's frustrating when you have very limited windows of time with children and you have pacing guide that children have to go through," said John Helmholdt, GRPS spokesperson.

When it comes to high school students, who depend on the Internet for research, Kent ISD surveyed its 20 districts to see what students have access to at home.

"More than 90% percent have access," said Koehler.
He says the low cost of smart phones has helped.

"That being said, a student's ability to do their homework or significant work on a smart phone is still very limited," he said.
Brian Bouma will be the first to agree.

"The cell phone would be the last resort," said Bouma, a student at Northview High School East Campus. "I've just been using my calculator on my cell phone for the last 10 minutes and it's annoying."

Helmoldt says GRPS may take some time to get new technology.
He says state funding cuts have hampered their efforts, and sequestration may have a negative impact as well.

The educators say public libraries, reduced Internet rates by Comcast for low-income families, and after-school programs help disadvantaged kids access the internet.

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