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Lack of Access . . . or lack of clarity? December 28, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, research.
Tags: , , , ,

Since a number of people had been retweeting a news article on the BBC website (A million UK children ‘lack access to computers’ – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12075057), it seemed I ought to check it out.

No computer

from maximolly on Flickr

OK, cards on the table first. Had the events described in this news item been taking place when I was in school, then I suspect, given my family circumstances, I’d have been one of the disadvantaged. Now that’s out the way, to the nitty-gritty.

Apparently the Government refused to comment, the journalist told us … twice. Well to be honest, I’m not surprised, but I’m not going to let that stop me.

Let’s start with the opening paragraph – ‘More than a million school children in the UK still lack access to a computer at home, research suggests.‘ Well exactly how many more? And is a raw figure particularly helpful? How many children of school age are there anyway? (8 071 000 in the 2009 school census according to the BIS Statistics site) So does that mean that about 1 in 8 children doesn’t have access? And if it does, how bad is that? Is it bad (or good?) on its own terms, or in relation to other similar countries?

Let’s pick that apart a little further then. Of the 1 million children:

  • how many are in the same household with siblings? Should we suppose that if there are let’s say three siblings in the same household, none has access? If that is the case, then addressing it might demand a different approach by the school, LA or Government, than if the 1 million are all in separate households.
  • How many are in families who have chosen not to have a computer in their home? And what should our response be to that choice?
  • What is the spread of lack of access by age? Should we expect all children of all ages to have the same level of access? Does a three year old need the same level and type of access as a 17 year old?

Moving on a little, the ‘research’ the article is based on is from the e-learning foundation, a worthwhile charity whose goal is to reduce the ‘digital divide.’ If you visit the site, I’d be grateful if you could point me at the ‘research’ item from which the BBC article drew its substance. It’s not in the News section, nor the latest Newsletter, nor the Chief Exec.’s blog, nor Press Releases. There is a reference to a Rowntree Foundation Report which sites 3.5 million children living in poverty in the UK, though I could find no reference to the computer access figures in there (I concede I might have missed it somewhere in the 120 pages though). Perhaps then the BBC had interviewed someone from the e-learning foundation who had provided them with the figures, and the website is yet to be brought up to date. There is mention of 1 million children lacking access to a home computer and Broadband access right there on the home page, but there’s no reference to the data source from which the figure arose.

The BBC article goes on to cite the results of a TES survey in November in which ‘more than half of teachers who took part in a survey … said pupils without access to internet or a computer at home were hampered in their learning.‘ Again since there is no link to the raw figures, it’s hard to take on face value. The journalist could of course have put it ‘almost half the teachers … said pupils without access to internet or a computer at home were unaffected in their learning.’ How many teachers were surveyed, from what backgrounds etc? And while we’re at it, how do these teachers know that not having access to a computer and the Internet hampered their learning? Where did their data come from? Let me just throw this into the mix – in the homes lacking in access, was that the only factor which might have hampered their learning? I suspect that sadly, these children are likely to be impoverished in other ways too.

Having swung a kick at the crutch of precision in the article, I have to declare my support for the sentiment it expresses. However the numbers arose, there are undoubtedly vast numbers of children who are disadvantaged with respect to ICT in their homes. It behoves us all to consider what we in schools are doing about that. As a reader of this blog, I suspect you’re not going to suggest that we back away from ICT, so what can we do to reduce the digital divide? Maybe we can look to the e-learning foundation to help us here … or maybe they ‘seeded’ the BBC article to prompt just such a reaction!

Did the article get a little more prominence than it deserved because the ‘retweet’ button’s just a little too easy? Maybe we ought to step back a moment before clicking? Maybe clarity was sacrificed … but given the cause, does that matter? Maybe I’m overdue a visit from the ghosts of Xmas past, present and future?



1. ICT Tower - December 29, 2010

Excellent post, we need more critical analysis of news stories like this.

2. Tweets that mention Lack of Access . . . or lack of clarity? « In the pICTure -- Topsy.com - December 29, 2010

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ian Guest, Mr V. Mr V said: Excellent post. RT @IaninSheffield: …the BBC article on lack of access? I'm not … comfortable with it http://bit.ly/fgRBj2 […]

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