July 10, 2017

What is the Homework Gap? How digital inclusion affects your students

Imagine two kindergartners, starting their first day of school: Maria and Charlie. These two young students have similar abilities, go to the same school, both have families who support their learning---but Maria has high speed broadband access and a computer at home, while Charlie does not.

At first, Maria and Charlie are on the same pace at school. They’re both learning basic math and reading skills and adjusting to school. But then, their outcomes diverge.

According to a 2009, FCC study, 70% of teachers assign homework that requires broadband access. With more textbooks becoming eBooks, and the increased adoption of learning management software in the classroom, this percentage has increased.

As the kindergartners become first, second and third graders the ability for one to complete assignments, research and learn is hampered. Maria can complete her homework on a desktop with a printer, while Charlie struggles to complete assignments on a small cell phone screen. Maria can use the Internet at home, while Charlie relies on intermittent cellular data, or needs to go to the library and try to fit in his homework in the allocated time. Maria has parents who are familiar with the computer, who use it at work and home, while Charlie can’t get computer help from his caregivers.

The change in outcomes, or the Homework Gap, persists through high school. With broadband access at home, Maria is more likely to graduate high school than Charlie. In addition, she is more likely to have higher grades and be more tech savvy. After high school, this gap can affect college, career and more.

There are about 5 million households like Charlie’s in the United States, with African American and Hispanic households making up a larger percentage. Technology is often touted to bridge inequities, but it also can exacerbate them.

Afterschool providers are at the front lines of digital inclusion. The term digital inclusion does not only refer to access however, but digital literacy skills and the type of devices used to connect to the Internet. Students like Charlie rely on out of school providers for bridging much of this Homework Gap.

To learn more about digital inclusion and work being done in Utah see the author’s articles here and here.

To follow national efforts on digital inclusion, follow the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is an information professional, freelance journalist and CEO of Digital Respons-Ability. She regularly trains and teaches on information literacy. Carrie can be contacted at