The Common Sense Census Presents: Remote Learning and Digital Equity During the Pandemic, 2021
New Common Sense research shows that children of color have been far more likely to experience disruptions in learning due to lack of digital access during the pandemic than White kids.
As parents navigate a third school year under COVID-19 restrictions, new research by Common Sense Media indicates that Black and Hispanic/Latino youth have been disproportionately affected by the disruptions. Children of color were twice as likely as White students to say they have attended school online "all the time" since the pandemic began: 48% of Hispanic/Latino kids and 39% of Black youth, compared to only 20% of White children who said the same. Disparities in digital access have been stark, and Black and Hispanic/Latino students have experienced more tech-related educational disruptions as a result.
The Common Sense Census Presents: Remote Learning and Digital Equity During the Pandemic explores the way kids age 8 to 18 in the U.S. attended classes during the crisis, what access they had to computers and broadband while learning from home, and how frequently they experienced technical issues that disrupted their education.
Racial disparities in digital access persisted more than a year into remote learning, when the survey was conducted: 92% of White students had a computer at home, compared to 78% of Black students; 88% of White students had home broadband, compared to 68% of Hispanic/Latino students. More than half (55%) of Hispanic/Latino and 43% of Black students experienced tech-related disruptions in learning "often" or "sometimes," compared with 38% of White students.
The results of the study also illustrate the economic inequality in education that was exacerbated by the pandemic. Although local and federal funding alleviated some distance learning pressures, students from lower-income households are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide. About one in four (24%) children from lower-income households still do not have a computer at home, compared to just 5% of those in higher-income families.
"Having a computer and internet access at home is no guarantee that the device and service will be adequate for students' needs. But not having them is a guarantee that they won't," said Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense Media. "The disparities in technological resources available to students of color and lower-income families have had devastating implications on their ability to fully partake in distance learning during the pandemic."
This new research reaffirms the importance of digital equity and the need for all families to have access to high-speed broadband and computers at home to help close the digital divide.
- Children of color and those from lower-income households have been far more likely to attend school remotely during the pandemic than White children or those from wealthier households. Forty-one percent of White children say they have attended school mostly or fully in person during the pandemic, compared with 24% of Black and 18% of Hispanic/Latino youth.
- Nearly one in five 8- to 18-year-olds still don't have residential broadband. Although 61% of lower-income parents have broadband at home, 90% of higher-income parents have broadband internet. Sixty-eight percent of Hispanic/Latino and 76% of Black students have home broadband, compared with 88% of White students.
- The overwhelming majority of students attending school remotely during the pandemic experienced technical issues that made it hard for them to attend class or complete their schoolwork. More than half (55%) of Hispanic/Latino students said they experienced such challenges "often" or "sometimes," compared with 38% of White students.
- Students without home broadband experienced more frequent disruptions in their schooling. Fifty-six percent of kids without broadband experienced technical issues "often" or "sometimes," compared to 41% of students with broadband access.
As students continue to return to the classroom, the momentum to eliminate digital inequity must be increased. Children, no matter their racial or socioeconomic background, should have access to affordable broadband and e-learning devices. Greater federal and state funding along with innovative policy solutions are needed to permanently close the digital divide.
Methodology: The data is from a nationally representative, probability-based online survey of 1,318 U.S. youth age 8 to 18 and their parents or caregivers. The survey was conducted from May 7–June 3, 2021, by Ipsos Public Affairs for Common Sense Media, using Ipsos's KnowledgePanel©. The survey was offered both in English and Spanish. The report was written by Victoria Rideout of VJR Consulting and Michael Robb of Common Sense.
Find more of our research on the digital divide here.
Learn more about Common Sense resources for distance learning and closing the digital divide here.
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.
Jason Maymon, Vice President, Communications
Lorena Taboas, Media Relations Manager