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Studies suggest steps to bridge digital divide among Hispanics

A national survey of Hispanic parents showed how media use could serve as a catalyst for other activities.   (©
A national survey of Hispanic parents showed how media use could serve as a catalyst for other activities. (©

Studies suggest steps to bridge digital divide among Hispanics

Brigid Barron’s work with Sesame Workshop underscores how all parents appreciate the ways that media can help children to learn.

Hispanic families are using some digital tools at rates that rival their middle class white peers, but have fewer opportunities to tap into educational content that could advance children’s early growth and long-term achievement, according to research findings released in February by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Brigid Barron, professor of education at Stanford University, and June Lee, vice president of international research at Sesame Workshop, co-wrote one of three new Cooney Center publications that analyzed educational media practices in Hispanic families. Their report — Aprendiendo en casa: Media as a Resource for Learning Among Hispanic-Latino Familiesfocused on the results of a national survey of 682 Hispanic parents on that probed how they and their children learn from digital media.

“While the shows, games and apps that children so enjoy have the potential to support learning, we know that finding high-quality media can be a significant challenge that can constrain the potential for learning,” Barron said. “Our report is intended to begin a conversation about how to more intentionally leverage digital media for all children’s learning and to outline the need for research that can advance this goal.”

According to the report, Hispanic Americans are as likely to own a smartphone and go online via a mobile device as white Americans, but they are less likely to own a computer and to have broadband access to the Internet. Barron highlighted three key points from her and Lee’s report:

  • Hispanic parents whose children have regular access to educational media told the researchers that it improved their children’s learning.
  • Hispanic parents want more information about how to find high-quality media for their children.
  • There is a significant digital divide among Hispanics based on parents’ educational attainment, family income, how long they have been in the United States and whether they are predominantly English-speaking, Spanish-speaking or bilingual.

Barron and Lee discovered that Hispanic families that speak primarily Spanish and which had the lowest incomes were least likely to have home Internet access or own computers, tablets and e-readers. They were also least likely to say that their children have access to educational content through these technologies, the co-authors found.

“Households that have less access have fewer opportunities for learning,” Barron said. For instance, according to the survey, more than half of parents who had broadband access at home reported learning daily through Internet searches as compared with only about 20 percent of parents without home access. Parents who use the Internet to learn are more likely to use it to help their children learn, she added.

“We need to pay attention to and bridge differential access to devices, the Internet and the opportunities to learn to use them in empowered ways,” Barron said.

The second study from the Sesame Workshop — Connecting to Learn: Promoting Digital Equity for America’s Hispanic Families — explores the new divide in digital opportunities and how it can be improved for low-income Hispanic families. The third report, Digital Media and Latino Families: New Channels for Learning, Parenting and Local Organizing, examines how digital media plays a role in Latino families and the possible social implications it can have on family dynamics.

The report from Barron and Lee provides other information about the types of media used, its impact and parents’ feelings about it. Television, for instance, remains the most common platform Hispanic families use to gain access to educational content. In addition, parents of children who use educational media on a weekly basis reported that this exposure supported their child’s learning, particularly in literacy and mathematics.

Barron highlighted that about 80 percent of the respondents said that they wanted more information about how to find high-quality educational media for their children. This has major implications for future work: “We need to design learning opportunities for all parents and provide them in Spanish as well as in English.”

Aprendiendo en casa, is based on findings from a survey that was conducted in English and Spanish with a nationally representative group of 682 Hispanic parents of children ages 2-10. The findings were derived from an analysis of the Hispanic subsample of parents that participated in a survey summarized in the Cooney Center’s Learning at Home report that was released in 2014. The survey was designed to capture the ways in which media serve as a catalyst for other activities: It featured questions about how often the respondents’ children engage in activities sparked by media, including starting conversations, asking questions, requesting to engage in projects, and engaging in imaginative play activities.

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop is an independent research and innovation lab that focuses on the challenges of educating children in a rapidly changing media landscape. We conduct original research on emerging education technologies and collaborate with educators and media producers to put this research into action.

This story is based on a news release and other content on the Cooney Center and Sesame Workshop websites, in addition to information provided by Brigid Barron.

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