October 15, 2006
By Robert Townsend
We tend to think of computer use and the Internet as all pervasive, but a new report from The National Center for Education Statistics provides some solid data that places those perceptions in context.
They estimate that 91 percent of K-12 students used a computer, and 59 percent of students used the Internet in 2003. That probably understates the number a bit, since it only asked about use in school or home, not at the library.
Beyond the broad numbers on use, the survey shows more specific lines of difference in who uses computers and how. The report parses out a number of different risk factors (family wealth and education, race) that foster the “digital divide.” The report shows that these differences extend not just to access but also into different ways students use computers for things like homework. Students whose parents lack a high school degree were much less likely to use computers for school assignments, even when they had access to a computer.
One interesting thing they did not find was a gender divide. It appears boys and girls use computers at the same rate, with female students slightly more likely to use the internet.
There is no data specifically related to history, but it does provide a useful measure for thinking about how Americans will read and use history in the future. If you are interested, the report is now online at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2006/2006065.pdf