While many states are aiming to level the educational playing field by making sure all children have access to a computer, experts say that for some kids, having a home computer might actually do them more harm than good.
In a large study conducted by Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, reading and math scores of 150,000 North Carolina students were analyzed before and after a computer was introduced into the home. They discovered that kids who first got a home computer while in grades five through eight posted lower scores in math and reading than they did before getting a computer.
While the decline in scores was “modest but significant,” those in disadvantaged families were found to be particularly impacted. Professor Jacob Vigdor says that this was due to the fact that in these households, parents were not only less likely to monitor their kids’ computer use, but also less likely to guide them in using the computers for educational purposes.
Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn’t share that perception.”
Because this study was conducted from 2000 to 2005, it missed the impact of Twitter, Facebook and other online distractions. But researchers say that having broadband access to the Internet, which most of the students in the study did, contributed to a whole lot of time-wasting. These kids were using their computers to socialize and play games.
Of course, a five-year study wasn’t really necessary to discover that kids play on their computers. But Vigdor says the research indicates states like Maine, which recently funded laptops for every sixth grader, might actually be widening the gaps between test scores of advantaged and disadvantaged students.
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