The internet is widely regarded as one of the most important innovations of our time, due in large part to its ability to spark further innovation. Internet access allows inventors to collaborate with other researchers, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. It also enables crowdsourcing and connections with future customers. The internet, in general, removes barriers to information and resources—effectively accelerating innovation.
What happens when would-be inventors can’t access this catalyst for innovation?
The Impact of the “Homework Gap”
A study by The Quello Center at Michigan State University, published in 2018, found that students without high-speed internet access at home are at a distinct disadvantage. These individuals have lower GPAs, are less likely to finish homework, and have weaker digital literacy. This lack of digital skills impacts a wide variety of academic outcomes, including “students performing lower on standardized test scores, such as the SAT, and being less interested in careers related to science, technology, engineering, and math.” These shortcomings, which reach beyond other socioeconomic challenges these students may face, are collectively called the “homework gap.”
When schools transitioned to remote learning in March 2020 to combat COVID, the homework gap widened, engulfing the entire learning experience for many of the almost 17 million US students who lack at-home internet access. This includes about 23% of all households and almost a third of Black, Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native households in the US.
The potential of these students is severely diminished by their inability to access the internet. Not only are they unable to tap into the connections and resources available online, but they are less interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers in general. As argued in a recent IPWatchdog opinion piece, the lack of high-speed internet access “not only robs these children of opportunities; it robs our nation of their potential ideas and ingenuity.”
As the internet and internet-powered technologies become more essential to everyday life, we can only imagine how those without access will continue to be excluded from the benefits of both the internet and resulting innovation.