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MUNCIE, Indiana – When K-12 classes start in the next month across Indiana, school teachers may have students whose educational achievement suffered due to the lack of internet access during the pandemic, says a new policy brief from Ball State University. 

“How Many School-Age Children Lack Internet Access in Indiana?” found that about 68,649 to 84,118 Indiana school-age children do not have internet access at home.  

The study also found the most urban areas of the state (including the city of Indianapolis and northwest Indiana near Chicago) and the most rural parts of the state have the highest percentages of households without internet access. 

“The lack of access to appropriate devices and the internet — also known as the digital divide —could increase educational and social gaps among children,” said Michael Hicks, director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER) and the brief’s lead author.  “With the closing of school buildings during the final months of the 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the potential closing of schools if COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the coming months, this policy brief helps to gauge the impact on vulnerable children without access to internet.” 

He pointed out that various studies over the last decade suggest that moderate and monitored home computer/internet use has positive impacts on children’s social development, cognitive development, and school performance.  

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to acknowledge the impact of the digital divide on children who have limited alternatives to remote and virtual learning during school closures,” Hicks said. “This inequality in internet access could further increase the learning gap between children with and without access to the internet.” 

CBER’s study found that among households with school-age children and without internet access, most are single parent households (57%), have parents not in labor force (18.9%), are low-income families (35.2%), have non-English speakers at home (22.4%), and are households living in rental property (49.3%).  

 The study also found:  

About 42,413 households or about 6.5 % with school-aged children do not have internet access at home. 

The absence of broadband access disproportionately affected students in families with characteristics that already challenge academic success. 

Hicks said CBER’s research points out that the interruption of school in March 2020 resulted in wide variation in delivering online education because there are large gaps in internet access across the state.  

“In the coming months, Indiana lawmakers will need to fund efforts to remediate students whose educational achievement suffered due to the pandemic,” Hicks said. “Indiana policymakers must also prepare for learning impacts of school closings during the 2020-2021 school year.”

In addition to Hicks, the CBER research team included Dagney Faulk, director of research: Srikant Devaraj, research professor; and Yuye Zhang, a graduate research assistant specializing in GIS.