New American research has it that children with access to computers at home are likely to have lower test scores.
The study, conducted by scholars at Duke University's Sanford School of Public Policy, covers 2000 to 2005, a period when home computers and high-speed Internet access expanded dramatically.
AdvertisementProfessors Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd analysed responses to computer-use questions included on North Carolina's mandated End-of-Grade tests (EOGs).
Students reported how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure.
The study had several advantages over previous research that suggested similar results, Vigdor said.
The sample size was large - numbering more than 150,000 individual students.
The data allowed researchers to compare the same children's reading and math scores before and after they acquired a home computer, and to compare those scores to those of peers who had a home computer by fifth grade and to test scores of students who never acquire a home computer.
The negative effects on reading and math scores were "modest but significant," they found.
Vigdor said: "We cut off the study in 2005, so we weren't getting into the Facebook and Twitter generation.
"The technology was much more primitive than that. IM (instant messaging) software was popular then, and it's been one thing after the other since then. Adults may think of computer technology as a productivity tool first and foremost, but the average kid doesn't share that perception."
Kids in the middle grades are mostly using computers to socialize and play games, Vigdor added, with clear gender divisions between those activities.
Vigdor and Ladd concluded that 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 suggests that programs to expand home computer access would lead to even wider gaps between test scores of advantaged and disadvantaged students, Vigdor said.