Internet access in Golden Gate

on May 12, 2010

We wanted to test what percentage of students attending school in the Golden Gate neighborhood have home Internet access.  Over 70 percent of students attending school in the neighborhood are low-income, so we thought this would give us a basic picture of whether the digital divide—a situation in which low-income populations have less access to the Internet than middle- and high-income populations—was at work in Golden Gate.

We distributed a simple survey asking students whether they have Internet access in their homes and how frequently they go online.  The survey was given to 170 3rd through 6th grade students in Berkley Maynard Academy (a K-7 Aspire charter school), Civicorps Elementary (a K-5 charter school with an environmental focus), and Santa Fe Elementary (a K-5 traditional public school).

Eighty-six percent of students attending Berkley Maynard and 94 percent of students attending Civicorps reported having access to the Internet in their homes.  In comparison, just 64 percent of students attending Santa Fe elementary reported having access to the Internet in their homes.  Santa Fe was the only traditional public school that we observed.  While 63 percent is still a majority, it is statistically significantly lower than the majorities in the other two schools.

Students who reported having a computer at home had much higher rates of daily Internet access.  For example, of students at Berkeley Maynard who have Internet access at home, 45 percent reported going online daily.  Only 7 percent of students at this school without Internet access at home reported going online daily.  The other schools reported similar usage trends.

That said, the majority of students surveyed in each of these schools reported being able to use the Internet daily or weekly, whether or not they reported having access at home.  That Internet usage is high irrespective of whether a family owns a computer is important, as it means that students are able to get online elsewhere in the community.

Though this was a short survey with a relatively small sample size, the results still raise a number of interesting questions that deserve more attention.  Why are low-income students in charter schools more likely to have home Internet access than their non-charter, public school peers?  Do these findings reflect something unique about charter school students and their families?  Also, our survey showed that in Golden Gate, most students are able to get online at least weekly.  Is this an anomaly?  Have programs like Oakland Technology Exchange West made low-income Oakland neighborhoods less digitally divided than similar neighborhoods elsewhere?  Or are low-income families throughout the country not as digitally divided from the rest of society as one might think?

Do you have Internet access in your home?  Do you have kids who use the Internet?  How often do you and your kids go online?  Do you think a lack of access to the internet would stunt a child’s education?  Join the conversation below!

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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