Is Online Education Leaving Lower Income Students Behind?

The world of online education is drawing much scrutiny from critics. Some say that schools are jumping into online education too fast, says USC News. Others say that it is expensive and does not work as well as a traditional brick and mortar education.

One such critic is Patricia Burch, who is the author of Equal Scrutiny: Privatization and Accountability in Digital Education and a former college professor. She believes that the online classroom depends too much on money, which not everyone has. Emma Palasz for the Badger Herald quotes Burch as saying:

“Imagine … when you were in high school, in order to get access to any homework or any of your grades … you had to have a desktop computer and you had to have access to the Internet, which is the case these days. And maybe you have the means to do that,” Burch said. “Imagine you have other students, who didn’t have that computer and didn’t have that access, and they’re penalized because they don’t have access to that computer. That’s a problem, don’t you think?”

Not everyone has a computer or Internet access at home. Many people have to go to a public library for their Internet access, so high income students will have an educational advantage over low income ones, writes Palasz.

Three main products and services make up the tools being sold to school districts when it comes to the subject of online education: digital courses, digital schools and digital tutoring, according to Palasz. Burch stated she also would have to include the digital assessment because of the rise of online testing in schools.

By way of having more resources, critics believe that high-income districts are more likely to use more creative paths of digital education. Examples include students being more interactive and not just using traditional learning methods.

Unfortunately, these digital pathways are not so easily reaching lower income students. Online classes and the technology needed to use them are expensive. In areas with vast numbers of low income families, these online tools  are not being used to their full potential. This is mainly due to inadequate resources, Burch said. Technology in poorer schools  is being used for very basic things like email. Also, the computer-to-student ratio is much smaller in lower-income school districts.

Money drives the industry. Technology companies can sell more and higher end items to richer school districts, while poorer school districts are stuck with technological dinosaurs. Palasz quotes Burch as saying:

“When … something like education becomes so closely knitted to commercial interests of large national and increasingly multinational companies, and we have a situation in which there is limited or no regulation of these companies’ activities, then you have a situation in which companies’ financial interests trump kids’ interests,” Burch said.