Differences in Digital Literacy Based on Gender and Socio-Economic Status

Introduction

The tremendous revolution in the information and communication technology (ICT) has become remarkably dominant in everyday life and penetrated all its spheres, including practical and scientific ones. The situation even reached the point of abandoning some traditional tools and replacing them with electronic or technical devices. This improvement in ICT literacy in the 21st century was defined as skills digital literacy (Ritzhaupt, Liu, Dawson, & Barron, 2013). The concept of digital literacy includes not only the ability to find data but also responsible and rational usage of digital technologies and tools to optimize everyday processes (Cooper, 2006).

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However, there is continuing debate about digital literacy being a digital divide between certain social groups that is caused by many factors, such as gender, education, and a person’s status. The given essay will argue that gender has a minor influence on the formation of digital literacy, whereas socio-economic status (SES) has a major impact on it. The ongoing gap between genders arising on the basis of digital usage will be discussed, and significant SES variables that have the potential to impact adolescent’s literacy at school and at home will be suggested.

Gender

The term gender gap does not necessarily provide that one of the genders reaps the benefits of the technological revolution and has better digital literacy. If there are any disparities, they are based on how males and females use ICT (Cooper, 2006; Parycek, Sachs, & Schossböck, 2011). In such a case, to adequately assess these disparities, the nature of ways in which men and women use ICT for learning activities and interests should be analyzed. Interestingly, a number of studies discovered that females are more skilful in looking for precise and concrete information when using ICT, as compared to males (Parycek et al., 2011; Ritzhaupt et al., 2013).

The study that focused on Caucasian and African-American children found that females utilize ICT for more valuable reasons (as cited in Ritzhaupt et al., 2013). It is stated that females use a computer as a learning tool, while males mostly use it as a gaming tool (Cooper, 2006). These results support findings from Salaway et al., who stated that genders had similar skill levels across most digital literacy’s usages (as cited in Nasah, Dacosta, Kinsell, & Seok, 2010).

Gender disparities related to the use of ICT are inextricably linked with the social context. It has been shown that females had their learning capabilities decreased and experienced a high level of computer anxiety in the presence of males (Cooper, 2006). In contrast, they succeeded in learning and had no difficulties in using computers when they were alone. Hence, the social context is attributable to the difference between the two genders since the performance of females was significantly affected by the opposite sex.

Current perceptions of computer usage by males have encouraged gender stereotypes related to ICT. Unfortunately, negative social beliefs about fields that are suitable for the two genders only exacerbate the digital gap. For example, the way people are treated by parents, teachers, and society shapes their attitudes toward gender (McKenzie, 2015). The study conducted by Spencer et al. shows that women performed worse on the math test than men because they thought that the test would be assessed based on gender (as cited in Cooper, 2006).

The evidence shows that the problem has its roots in the variance of attitudes regarding the correlation between gender and digital literacy, which likely depends on the social and cultural construction (Cooper, 2006). Therefore, regardless of the importance of gender, it is still not a factor determining an individual’s digital propensity.

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SES

The formation of individual literacy is based on social experience that is primarily shaped by the influence of a family and then determined by the socio-economic aspects of one’s environment (McKenzie, 2015). Culture, identity, home, and the school have a huge impact on the success of a child’s literacy, including a digital one. The statistics described by Parycek et al. (2011) showed that children from families with low socio-economic status are less skilled in using ICT. According to the study of the National Science Foundation, “nearly half of all White families in the United States own a home computer, but fewer than one-quarter of African-American families own one” (Cooper, 2006, p. 320).

The family social status, economic aspect, a type of school, and migration past have a significant impact on the development of digital literacy, and thus, on the digital divide. Moreover, dysfunctional families and former migrants also lag in ICT literacy. As a particularly important indicator, the family status is linked with the type of school to which a child goes. The study of Maier-Rabler and Hartwig states showed that there is a structural disadvantage between the students of the school type Hauptschule and the students attending a gymnasium (as cited in Parycek et al., 2011).

Another study found significant differences between high and low SES schools and the number of electronic tools used to communicate with families and society (Ritzhaupt et al., 2013). Finally, the digital literacy is defined not only by the opportunity to access information technology but also by the attitude to Internet resources, due to the culture of the region, religious views, social perceptions, and upbringing.

Based on the research findings mentioned above, one can state that there is a digital gap between some segments of society that does not seem to shrink in the era of technological advancements. Children who were raised in a family with low social status are more likely to have a lower level of digital literacy. Unequal digital literacy in the society is in most cases determined by social disparities which exist between people of different income levels, social positions, and backgrounds. Therefore, digital literacy, as well as other literacy practices, is inseparable from one’s identity or culture. However, the correlation between SES and digital literacy does not have a linear nature. This means that an increase in access to ICT does not necessarily lead to its more responsible use.

At the same time, an increase in the annual family income does not significantly increase the odds that children will become more interested in the feasible use of ICT. Thus, even having been given a possibility to take advantage of digital devices, children may not involve themselves in learning activities to use the Internet wisely. One particular reason for that may be a poor level of school education regarding the use of digital technologies. Crucial factors determining the nature of a child’s computer usage include their upbringing, social environment, and the way they are taught at school. Therefore, one could note that schools should seek to provide better computer education to children regardless of their socio-economic category and encourage them to practice digital literacy skills. In such a case, the gap between different socio-economic groups will be narrowed.

Conclusion

To sum up, disparities in digital literacy stem mainly from differences in the SES of computer users, whereas the relationship between digital literacy and gender is rather weak. Despite the common stereotypes, the computer skills of females are not worse than those of males, yet the contexts in which they use digital devices vary. In turn, the SES has been proven to enormously contribute to a digital gap. Thus, it is important to remove the discussed disparities by providing children from low-income families with more opportunities to use digital devices in a feasible and rational manner.

References

Cooper, J. (2006). The digital divide: The special case of gender. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(5), 320–334.

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McKenzie, S. (2015). Socioeconomic factors that affect children’s literacy experiences. Web.

Nasah, A., Dacosta, B., Kinsell, C., & Seok, S. (2010). The digital literacy debate: An investigation of digital propensity and information and communication technology. Educational Technology Research and Development, 58(5), 531–555.

Parycek, P., Sachs, M., & Schossböck, J. (2011). Digital divide among youth: Socio‐cultural factors and implications. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 8(3), 161–171.

Ritzhaupt, A. D., Liu, F., Dawson, K., & Barron, A. E. (2013). Differences in student information and communication technology literacy based on socio-economic status, ethnicity, and gender. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 45(4), 291–307.

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