Chris Davies runs the Learning and New Technologies Research Group at the University of Oxford Education Department. Together with Rebecca Eynon, he recently wrote the book Teenagers and Technology, just published by Routledge. Here, from an article in the Guardian, he describes some of their findings and in particular, the impact having no internet access at home has on pupils…
We saw that home computers and internet access had become integral to the way many teenagers studied at home. “A lot of homework is research and you need to research on the computer,” 15 year old Matt explained. Teachers recognised the benefits of home access, too, because internet filtering often seriously constrains research on school networks.
Giving children free access to the internet for homework is a bit of a mixed blessing. We talked to some older teenagers taking GCSEs and A-levels who decided to avoid it because they realise that they could too easily succumb to the lure of chatting online. Such youngsters preferred to use the internet for homework emergencies only.
Others seemed more competent at multi-tasking and managed to weave together work and pleasure in ways that were quite productive. Not that their parents always saw it that way, as 15 year old Samuel ruefully explained. He described how his mother would burst into his bedroom just as he was taking a breather. But Samuel went on to get good GCSE grades.
We saw many instances of youngsters who were making good use of the opportunity to use the internet at home, not merely because they could look up information for research, but also because they get guidance on homework requirements and could monitor their own progress on their school learning platform.
At the same time, there remained a relatively small number with no home access who could use ta computer only during lunch-hours and after school. While that number was somewhat reduced by the Labour government’s ambitious Home Access Scheme, recent figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest that about 5% – around 300,000 children at the very least – still do not have internet access at home. But given the variety of views about the value of such access in the home, is this actually a problem?
The unconnected teenagers we spoke to certainly thought so. Arjan, 14, told us, “People with internet, they can get higher marks,” while 15-year-old Sharon complained that “it was bell gone and I have a lot of things that I could write and I was angry that I haven’t got a computer … because when I’m at school I need to do it very fast”. Technology may be a mixed blessing for those who can use it when they like at home, but for those who cannot, the lack of it seems like an intolerable exclusion – from their social world, and from the world of educational success.
What’s to be done? The Home Access Scheme is not about to be revived, although we could cite excellent reasons why it should be. So it is up to schools to prioritise the needs of those without access at home (the challenge is identifying them) and to offer calm and timely opportunities for using the internet on school premises. Equally important, though, is the provision of support from school for learners and parents alike in making effective use of the internet for homework, whether this is done at home or in school.