A growing number of parents feel that schools are not taking advantage of an exceptional opportunity when they decline to make use of mobile devices sported by a growing number of students in classes.
A new report published by Grunwald Associates and the Learning First Alliance finds that nearly one in four K-12 students uses some kind of mobile digital device at least occasionally, and many parents feel that the technology could be key to breaching the digital divide that threatens to separate low-income students from the higher-income peers when it comes to educational opportunities.
The report shows that there’s less of a link between family income and use of devices like smartphones than researchers expected. Although kids from low-income families were less likely to have access to or use such devices, nearly 20% of students who did not use them came from families where parents were users.
The cause of non-use in those cases is “some other reason that probably revolves around the attitudes of parents and, by extension, the students toward the smartphone,” said Peter Grunwald, the president and founder of Grunwald Associates, a research firm based in Bethesda, Md., known for its work on ed-tech related projects. “The ubiquity of mobile technology in everyday life I think comes through loud and clear in this study. Families own multiple devices, even families that are not well off.”
The number of available devices at home was found to be strongly linked with income. Homes where family income was under $25,000 owned on average 3.3 mobile digital gadgets while households with annual income of $150,000 or more had nearly twice as many.
In terms of support, a majority of responding parents saying they believed mobile devices could be positive educational tools for their children. “Majorities of parents believe that mobile devices and applications offer fun, engaging ways of learning, connecting and communicating,” the report states. “When it comes to mobile devices and education, most parents believe that these devices open up learning opportunities, benefit students’ learning and can engage students in the classroom. Many parents also believe that mobiles and apps teach academic skills and content.”
Parents appeared to be ahead of their school districts when it came to supporting to the use tools like smartphones, tablets and laptops in their schools. Although parents of students attending schools where such devices were used were more likely to embrace their use for educational purposes, support levels among parents were on average higher than among school district officials, teachers and other school employees.
Parents of students in grades K-2 were more likely to vouch for the effectiveness of mobile education than parents of students in grades 3-12. Although the study did not directly explore the reasons why parents of younger students showed that response, Grunwald said the discrepancy goes beyond parents of younger children simply being younger themselves, and thus more tech savvy.