UK students without Internet access are at a disadvantage

A recent study by Oxford University’s Department of Education looking into the uses of the Internet and mobile devices among UK teenagers has found that the benefits of these technologies far outweigh any risks.

The study was conducted both through a survey of more than 1,000 randomly selected households in the UK, and through face-to-face interviews with more than 200 teenagers and their families through the period 2008-11.

The University’s Department of Education conclusively shows that the educational advantages of a teenager accessing the internet within their household are substantial, despite parental concerns that networking sites and tendencies to multitask on devices promote a more easily distracted disposition in their children.

The study found that the lack of an internet connection in the home left teenagers feeling socially isolated as well as educationally disadvantaged, as most of their school and college work required a significant amount of online research and preparation.

At the time of the study, the researchers estimated that around ten per cent of the teenagers were without online connectivity at home, with most of this group living in poorer households. More recent statistics from the Office of National Statistics suggests that the number has dropped to about five per cent, although researchers estimate that this still leaves around 300,000 children without Internet access in their homes.

Researcher Dr Rebecca Eynon commented, “Behind the statistics, our qualitative research shows that these disconnected young people are clearly missing out both educationally and socially.”

A young teenager remarked in his interview, ‘’We get coursework now in Year 9 to see what groups we’re going to go in Year 10. And people with Internet can get higher marks because they can research on the Internet.”

He also commented on the socially adverse result of being “disconnected” by not having access to networking sites and applications, such as MSN. He stated, “My friends are probably on it all day every day. And they talk about it in school, what happened on MSN.”

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The researchers, Dr Chris Davies and Dr Rebecca Eynon, found no evidence to support the traditional claim that technology such as this distracts young people from concentrating on serious study. Conversely, their study confirms that the Internet has opened up more opportunities for teenagers to expand their learning at home.

Dr Davies said that the evidence “shows that parents have tended to focus on the negative side – especially the distracting effects of social networking sites – without always seeing the positive use that their children often make of being online”.

A second year E&M student commented in concurrence, telling Cherwell, “A lack of internet connection at home would make it difficult for a student to keep up with e-mails and communication would be hindered, especially now when most communication is electronic.”