Is the "Digital Divide" Such a Bad Thing?

Efforts such as One Laptop Per Child attempt to address the so-called "digital divide," the access to computers and the Internet by lower income children throughout the world. The argument: These children are at a disadvantage because they aren't exposed to the technologies, information, and, frankly, learning opportunities that others get.

But, maybe a lack of connectivity isn't such a bad thing: A new study out of Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy finds that having access to a computer could exacerbate the achievement gap in test scores. When families of lower income and minority students (particularly middle schoolers) get these technologies, they tend to post lower reading and math scores.

The study tracked 150,000 students prior to 2005—effectively excluding the Twitter effect. A press release about the report states that its authors believe "home computers are put to more productive use in households where parental monitoring is more effective. In disadvantaged households, parents are less likely to monitor children's computer use and guide children in using computers for educational purposes."

The research matches up with previous research discussed on The New York Times' Freakonomoics blog, which found that among children from low-income households, the introduction of computers and the Internet led to a rise in computer literacy scores, but a drop in reading and math.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user Tammra McCauley.