Falling Behind in a Rapidly Changing Digital World

Students who lack access to computers limit potential

Editor’s Note: With the advent of technological advances affecting our everyday lives, so many members of the Asian American community are being left behind. As digital access moves from being a benefit to an absolute necessity for all communities, understanding the needs of our emerging and diverse population becomes even more important. This summer, we partnered with the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL) to host a Community Action Project with a team of scholars and interns. The project focused on story collection about the importance of internet and technology for our communities. The blogs focus on students and digital access, businesses and social media, and domestic violence and technology and will be released over the next few weeks. While data on Asian Americans and digital engagement fail to paint a complete picture, we know that the stories collected from this project can help shape the discussion around our community and digital access.

For most, it is nearly impossible to imagine attending school in 2018 without a computer or a phone. The strides that have been made in technology are astonishing and continue to change every day. However, as technology continues to advance, it is also leaving behind a considerable number of students who are unable to keep up with the latest technological products and programs — causing them to fall behind in their studies.

Many students who lack access often first encounter a computer in their classrooms. While others are fortunate enough to have a computer at home, there are many students who are only able to access the internet through their (or their parent’s) smartphones, if they are lucky. One study found that 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires the use of technology and as one’s coursework advances, so do their technological needs. Without a computer at home, students are less likely to be familiar with essential programs, putting them at a significant disadvantage. Time spent doing work is instead spent trying to get access to a computer or to navigate the various computer software. Students who are uncomfortable with computers may lose precious testing time trying to understand the system.

Anacani (Cani), a recent college graduate and lifelong California resident, is one of the many students who grew up without a computer at home. Technology surrounded her in the classroom and every student was expected to use computers for all assignments. When Cani, and other students in her position explained that they were unable to access a computer out of school, they were met with indifference from their teachers.

Forced into resourcefulness, many students like Cani frequently walked to their local library to complete their work. But once at the library, students face a long line of other individuals, many of whom are other students, hoping to use the computers. After making her way through the queue, Cani was allotted two hours to complete her work before getting kicked off the computer. If it was a particularly busy day, which often it was, she was only allowed one hour and was often forced to rejoin the line if she wanted to finish her homework.

Not only were the computers in high demand, they were grossly outdated. These computers were a stark comparison to the state of the art technology suite available at many schools and Cani began to fall behind in her studies. Learning to use two completely different systems and alternate between them was difficult and time consuming. Cani, and many of her peers, belong to the 50% of students who noted that they were unable to complete homework because they lacked access to a computer. And 42% of students said that their lack of access resulted in lower grades on their assignments. Eventually, Cani was able to use YouTube to teach herself how to operate necessary programs, but proficiency did not come overnight.

Her experiences reflect the widespread problem of not having access to technology at home, and the digital divide that continues to prevent millions of students from reaching their full potential.

These hardships are certainly not exclusive to secondary scholars. Tammy Do, a first-generation rising sophomore at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) spent a large portion of her freshman year of college without a laptop.

Tammy, like Cani, relied on the library for technology. She checked out a laptop from the school library and spent days and nights there completing her work. She recalls the inconvenience, mentioning how frequently the laptops would break down resulting in the loss of her work. The majority of students in college own their own laptop to use for work, research, note taking, and recording lectures. In the classroom, many of her peers were able to take notes quickly and efficiently on their computers, but Tammy had to rely on handwritten notes, resulting in the loss of essential lecture information.

While Tammy does not feel like she missed out on opportunities, she acknowledges the persistent inconvenience associated with her limited access to technology. For in class assignments, she had to rely on the kindness of students around her and use their laptops after they submitted their answers. Aside from facing daily obstacles, Tammy was also embarrassed to not have a computer. When she did get a computer, it was old and outdated — making her feel ostracized from the rest of the student body who had newer and more expensive models. It took Tammy a long time, but she was finally able to buy herself a new laptop and she now feels more confident on campus and in completing her class assignments.

Technology, a now mainstream and essential component of the American education system, is not readily available to all students and as a result, it is creating a substantial learning gap within the student population. Without access to these tools, student achievement is hindered. Students must become reliant upon the precious few computer hours they are allotted at their local library. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 83% of experts believe that the “Internet of Things” will have widespread and beneficial effects on the everyday lives of the public by 2025.

As society looks to the future, it is important to consider the people left behind by our ever-progressing world. The technological advances in society will continue and if we are not careful, those advances will leave some behind. It will be even more critical to equip all students with the resources necessary to succeed and contribute.