Home Technology Equity Gaps in Parents’ Tech Skills Have Mostly Closed. Schools Should Take Notice

Equity Gaps in Parents’ Tech Skills Have Mostly Closed. Schools Should Take Notice

by Staff

Nearly a decade ago, there were big socio-demographic divides—even among low-income parents—when it came to how competent they felt in helping their children use technology, including as a learning tool.

But a year into the COVID-19 pandemic many of those gaps essentially closed, according to a study slated to be published in the International Journal of Communication, written by Bianca Reisdorf, an assistant professor in the department of communication studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, and Vikki Katz, a professor in the school of communication studies at Chapman University in Irvine, Calif.

The study builds on previous findings suggesting low-income parents now have a better sense of their children as learners than they did prior to the pandemic. It compared the results of two different telephone surveys of low-income families, conducted in 2015 and 2021.

Because of the pandemic, over that period, “there was a leveling up of parents’ confidence and capabilities with tech because they got thrown in the deep end, and they had to swim because they weren’t swimming for themselves. They were swimming for their kids,” Katz said in an interview.

The findings point to a “real opportunity for teachers and for educators around what parents are now able to do” at home with technology, Katz said. The leap forward was particularly striking for parents with less formal education and parents who are not English dominant, she said.

To be sure, there are still some important gaps between more and less advantaged communities when it comes to tech, including access to devices and reliable connectivity. What’s more, wealthier parents may be more likely to work a schedule that allows them to spend time helping their children use learning technology.

Back in 2015, older parents and women were less likely to say that they routinely provided parental tech guidance to their children, as well as parents of older children, defined as age 10 to 13. Black and Hispanic parents were also less likely to report providing tech guidance to their children than white parents. And parents with high school diplomas or college degrees were more likely to provide tech guidance than parents with no high school degree.

But by 2021 “most of these effects had disappeared,” the study concluded. Only the age of the parent and child reduced the likelihood of parents providing tech guidance. Parents with a college degree were still significantly more likely to provide tech guidance than parents without a high school degree.

The 2021 survey was based on telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 parents of children aged 3 to 13, all with household incomes below the national median for families in the United States. (That’s about $75,000 a year.) The 2015 survey relied on telephone interviews with a similarly-sized sample of parents of children aged 6 to 13, in households making under $65,000 a year.

The findings are consistent with an EdWeek Research Center, also conducted in 2021, which found that more than three-quarters of educators believed parent-school communication increased during the pandemic. And more than a third—37 percent—said it increased “a lot.” Some district officials overseeing family outreach connected that boost to greater reliance on technology for teaching and learning.

The study may suggest schools that serve primarily children from low-income families and those whose first language is not English may be better able to communicate with parents on apps or allow students to do digital enrichment at home than they were in the past, Katz said.

Going forward, parents are likely to retain those new “skills and capabilities and confidence,” in guiding their children’s use of tech, Katz added. But she warned, “We can lose [momentum] if we don’t build on it.”

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