Most American K-12 Students Can’t Afford Working Computers

Ninety-eight percent of households in this technologically advanced first-world country have access to computers as reported by the World Economic Forum in 2016. This progress can be accredited to the country’s commitment to supporting policies that provide the means for its children to grow and prosper in the digital economy. The country being described is Iceland. This Arctic state’s national policy supports the creation of digital educational materials, facilitates remote learning, and includes technology goals in elementary and secondary school curriculums. Regarding digital equity, the Icelandic President said during their inauguration speech, “It should be possible for everyone to find suitable opportunities for learning without being held back by their economic limitations.” Iceland ranks first in the world with the percentage of households with computers. Meanwhile, the United States ranks twenty-eighth below countries including Canada, Qatar, and Estonia. 

The WEF-Global Information Technology Report found that fifty-nine percent of American households have computers that do not work or run too slowly. This was a problem even before the COVID-19 pandemic, but when the Pandemic forced students to stay home and attend school using video conferencing, the lack of reliable computers became an even bigger problem. This meant that American children most likely experienced more difficulty learning remotely during the Pandemic than students in some other developed countries where access to computers is better.

Access to computers and broadband Internet opens the gateway to the largest collection of human knowledge ever assembled. For example, the Internet Archive, an American digital library, has now archived more than 34 million books and written materials, 7.4 million movies, almost 14 million audio files, and 640 billion web pages.  Lack of access to computers or broadband Internet essentially slams this gate shut for families who cannot afford this access. The United States made some progress in 2018 by investing six hundred million dollars to extend broadband internet access in rural areas. However, this did little to help people living in cities, where the bigger issue is the lack of access to modern, working computers. Let’s not stop with the effort and progress which we’ve already made. The Federal Government can and should do more to increase access to computers for underserved communities. Let’s take back the lead and put the United States at the top of the list of countries for computing access. Our country’s competitiveness depends on it.