Long considered the means by which the democratization of information would be achieved, the internet is increasingly becoming a platform where wealth disparities are made evident. According to a report released in July 2016 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the quality of internet use among students seems to be influenced by socioeconomic status.
The OECD report, which studied teenage students’ time spent online, highlighted the so-called “digital divide” that exists between their respective, qualitative internet use. In addition to this, the report found that despite having equal access, which theoretically should imply equal opportunity and success, poor students were less likely to know about or take advantage of the myriad benefits internet access affords.
Interestingly, in 21 out of the 42 countries from which data was collected, poor students actually spent more time online than wealthier students. Wealthy students, according to the study, spend their time online reading the news and learning. “But disadvantaged students may not be aware of how technology can offer opportunities to learn about the world, practice new skills or develop [professional plans or internet-based communication opportunities],” according to the OECD report.
The report noted that internet use among rich and poor students is strongly correlated with more general academic performance measures. It appears that the problem of ignorance about internet benefits both perpetuates and is perpetuated by lack of education.
A separate, unrelated study by the London School of Economics, published in February 2016, showed that people of the “higher social status” (wealthier and more educated people) benefited from their time spent online. “To some extent, the findings suggest that access to and use of the internet might exacerbate existing inequalities offline,” the study’s author remarked.
The OECD report noted that work aimed at ending these disparities is underway but that far more needs to be accomplished in order to make a difference.
One related effort attempting to tackle the issue of internet access is the Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act, which is currently making its way through Congress. This legislation is designed to bring internet access to the 60 percent of the world that is currently offline.
Though not directly related to efforts to leveling the playing field among people who are already online, the Digital GAP Act should have indirect but related benefits, as its passing will mean wider dissemination of internet education.
– James Collins