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AzETA 10th International ELT Conference English beyond the Classroom Walls 22-23 June 2013

Learn English
Teaching English

February 2016

Homework Gap

How to help your students avoid the homework gap

Do all your students have the Internet access at home?
Your knee-jerk response might be "Yes" but don't hurry up to give it. Make sure you know the right answer before giving home assignments that suspect a work with online instruments for students to accomplish them.

Most schools embrace technology today, and you are a teacher moving with the time, by far. Technologies and online resources in the classroom don't surprise anyone, and you expect students to use them for homework outside the classroom, too.

The problem is, many low-income students still don't have Internet access at home, which makes them unable to complete your required assignments.

What the government says
Gravely concerned about the issue, the US government calls it the "homework gap" and "the cruelest part of the digital divide."

The study by the Pew Research Center found that about five million families with school-age children don't have the Internet access, which is close a call for teachers bringing technology into their classrooms. Able to do lessons in classrooms, some students yet might experience a homework gap when you ask them to follow up the material outside of school.

Now, the US Congress address this issue nationwide. Two lawmakers, namely Peter Welch from Vermont and David McKinley from West Virginia, introduced the bill pledging additional support for programs to improve the situation for students outside the classroom.

Providing lower-income families with Internet access could impact the way teachers interact with students, as well as approaches they use to prepare students for college and careers. Thus, it would give the flexibility to assign homework that is online.

Back in 2013, only 18% of teachers admitted all their students had access to technologies they needed at home. Others couldn't assign homework requiring going online simply because students weren't able to access it. Today, when all spheres of our lives go online, the issues like the homework gap become even more important.

The government considers two programs that could broaden Internet access in low-income families with school-age children:

  1. The Lifeline program providing discounts on phone service with broadband Internet. Expanded in 2005, it had proved somewhat controversial, which stopped Congress from funding it.
  2. The E-Rate program providing Internet to schools and libraries, where children could do assignments after classes. Expanded in 2014, it seemed a noble goal but couldn't avoid controversy, too. They calculated that it would have cost $1.3 billion to provide iPads for every student in the Los Angeles District and canceled the program because of improper bidding, inconsistent Internet access, and little use of education software in classrooms.

Any alternatives? However, some researchers advise teachers to concentrate on things other than governmental programs.
“While conversations about digital equity inevitably focus on students and their schools, homes are key sites for children's learning,” claim Vikki S. Katz, Michael H. Levine, and Carmen Gonzalez, authors of the commentary in Education Week.

They appeal to working closer with families, considering it a crucial consideration for teachers concerned about the "homework gap" their students might have. The researchers say schools should focus on building relationships with lower-income families to find the alternative decision of the problem.
With these two different approaches that might work if come to grips, the "homework gap" issue remains essential for most teachers who yet have to figure out what works best.

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British Council
International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language
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Baku Slavic University
Community Shield Azerbaijan
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