Computers Should Be Made Available to Children of Low-Income Families

By Walker, Robert J. | USA TODAY, September 1997 | Go to article overview

Computers Should Be Made Available to Children of Low-Income Families


Walker, Robert J., USA TODAY


During the news show "CNN To-day," an eight-year-old child, home from school with his mother due to illness, called in to compete for the daily prize of a CNN coffee mug. The winner of the mug was to be the first caller with the correct answer to three trivia questions. One of the questions was: "What was the 50th state added to the United States in 1959?" The little boy responded very confidently, "Hawaii!," as if to say, "Why would you ask me such an easy question?"

The two commentators hosting the show were amazed. The eight-year-old answered all three questions correctly and won the mug. When asked by one of the hosts whether his mother gave him the answers, the little boy responded, "No, I got them off the computer." It is obvious that this child lives in a home environment where computer technology is used to enhance his academic abilities, and thus has a definite head start on learning. This is not the case for most youngsters in low-income families. In the area of technology, the U.S. family structure is divided into two societies -- one where young children have access to computers and another where they do not. According to a 1993 U.S. Census report, in homes where the family income is less than $20,000, just 15% of the children living in these homes have access to a computer. In most cases, the computer is an old black-and-white terminal at best.

In contrast, 74% of those where the family income is $75,000 or above have computers. When considering race, 43% of the homes of white children have computers, compared to 16% of black and 15% of Hispanic youngsters.

College-educated Asian-American males between the ages of 24 and 54 grossing around $75,000 annual income are the largest group to use computers either at home or at work. Undereducated African-American males between the ages of 19 and 54 making $11-20,000 annually are the largest segment that do not use computers.

Along with providing low-income children with food and clothing, it is important to make sure that they are not at a technological disadvantage. Steps must be taken to ensure they will not be left behind when it comes to computer literacy.

Technology is moving at warp speed, bringing about ways of learning that a few years ago only could be dreamt about. Many educators are adding computers into their daily curriculum. Students who have computer skills primarily acquired by the use of a home computer will be able to take full advantage of the technological environment. Those who don't have access to a home computer will be left at the mercy of whatever computer time is provided at school.

When a youngster can work on an assignment at home and transfer the material to the school by way of a disk or through an e-mail address, learning becomes fun and exciting. Students who use computers don't perceive that they actually are doing something academically. To them, it is more like playing a video game at the mall.

Students utilizing computers to master basic skills perform better on standardized tests. Through the use of the computer, pupils in the lower grades tend to write more because the keyboard is easier to utilize than pencil or pens. The dropout rate for high school students who use computers regularly at home and school is drastically lower than the general high school population. Students who have computer skills are more likely to attend college than those who do not.

The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow, a research project sponsored by Apple Computer, Inc., has revealed these key findings:

* Technology acts as a catalyst for fundamental change in the way children learn and teachers teach.

* It revolutionizes the traditional educational methods practiced by teachers today.

* Children become re-energized and much more excited about learning, resulting in significantly improved grades, while dropout and absenteeism rates fall.

* Kids interact and collaborate more when using technology, debunking the myth that it might isolate children and teachers. …

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