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How does the home use of computers differ between genders in year 5/6 pupils in a single school in the South East of England?
Home use of computers encompasses: use of the internet, playing computer games (educational and non-educational), e-communication, use of creative software, education including homework.
Smartphones can also be considered a "computer"; however, research by Ofcom in 2011 reported that only 2% of 8-11 year olds of the children in their sample used a smartphone/mobile phone to connect to the Internet. Due to such low penetration of this technology in this age group smartphones will not be specifically included in this research project.
History of access to the Internet and to a computer
Having access to a computer and the internet has changed considerably throughout the last decade (2002-2012). In 2002, 46% (11.02 million) people had access to the internet at home in Great Britain, compared to 65% (16.05 million) in 2008 (Office for National Statistics, 2008). In 2012, 21 million households in Great Britain had an internet connection. For those without internet connection in 2012 (5.2 million households) the common reason given by households for not having access was because they felt that there was no need for access (Office for National Statistics, 2012).
Internet Access in Great Britain
The graph shows how internet access in households has changed from 1998 through to 2012, 10% in 1998 rising to 80% by 2012. There is no evidence of the access plateauing off with an average 5% increase annually since 2002. Graph from Office for National Statistics, 2012.
The implementation and acceptance of new technology, particularly the internet has been widespread especially including children and young people throughout the last decade (Devine and Lloyd, 2012). Today, not only people connect to the internet through their computer but they also connect to the internet through their mobile phones, smartphones, ipods, Nintendo wiis, and x-box. Smartphones have been available in various forms since 1993, however until very recently smartphones have been used as enterprise devices were costly business tools. Modern smartphones such as the Blackberry were introduced 2002, followed by the iPhone in 2007 when Apple brought the smartphone to a mass consumer market (Reed, 2010).
Eynon and Geniets (2012) discussed access to the Internet. Van Diijk (2006) stated that a key issue into research with regard to usage, access to the internet is fundamental. However, in developed countries as well as many developing countries access per say is not an issue, but rather quality of access i.e. at home, in an internet café or at school (Livingstone and Helsper, 2007).
Eynon, (2009) discussed shared home access and Van Diijk (2006) discussed quality of home hardware and software. All these factors affect engagement with the internet, however over the last decade cost of access and opportunity (broadband is gradually being upgraded to rural areas-(http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-19696904) has significantly improved.
According to Sefton-Green (2004), "social class is a key determinant of influencing ownership of digital technologies". People who are better off and better educated/ or are in employment are more likely to use the internet as they have a better quality of access, more skills, more resources to draw upon and better support networks (Eynon and Geniets, 2012).
In 2010, the BBC reported that more than a million school children in the UK lack access to a computer at home (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-12075057). The charity E-Learning Foundation (accessed 5 October 2012) stated that over 800,000 (10%) of the most disadvantaged school children in the United Kingdom still could not go online at home which limited their opportunities both in education and digtally (http://www.e-learningfoundation.com/about-us1).
Research has shown that parents are more likely to buy a computer for their sons rather than their daughters (Cooper and Weaver, 2003; Holloway and Valentine, 2003) and use computers themselves for leisure or work purposes. It has been reported that girls are less likely to have computers and they are less likely than boys to be encouraged to use them (Cooper and Weaver, 2003). This is supported by research by Valentine, et al, 2005 who found that boys were more likely to have access to two or more hardware items at home compared to girls with only having access to one item of hardware at home (Valentine, et al, 2005). Cooper and Weaver (2003) further suggest that girls need to be encouraged to spend time on the family's computer whether it is doing homework, searching for information, writing e-mails or playing games and parents need to be as enthusiastic about encouraging their daughters to use computers as they are for their sons (Cooper and Weaver, 2003, p. 114).
What uses are there?
Research has indicated that playing computer games appears to be very popular among gender and social class (Valentine, et al, 2005). This is also supported by Kent and Facer (2004). Girls tended to play games which involved creating something and it involved co-operation e.g. The Sims, whereas boys tend to play games which are more competitive and focused on themes such as football or war e.g. Fifia 2013 (Valentine, et al, 2005).
A popular internet activity is social networking this includes combining chat, messaging, contacts, photography albums and the use of blogging (Devine and Lloyd, 2012). Many Social Networking Sites (SNS) such as Facebook, MySpace tend to have a recommendation age for joining (13 years old) (Devine and Lloyd, 2012). Statistics from one primary school in East Sussex, found that 70% of their Year 5/6's had Facebook (Personal Communication from a Headteacher of an East Sussex Primary School). Mark Zuckerbeg (founder of Facebook) has argued that children under the age of 13 should be allowed to use Facebook as there are many educational benefits of using the site (BBC, 2011 cited in Devine and Lloyd, 2012). The EU Kids Online Survey UK report (Livingstone, et al, 2010) discovered that 28% of 9-10 year olds have a SNS profile compared to 59% of 11-12 years old having a SNS profile. The rise at 11-12 years old in the UK could be due to the start of secondary school bringing a peer expectation of social networking (Livingstone, et al, 2010). The EU Kids Online Survey UK: reported that slightly more girls than boys had a social networking profile with 68% of girls compared to 65% of boys (Livingstone, et al, 2010) although this is probably not statistically significant.
According to Presnky (2001), the older generation are 'digital immigrants' as they were born prior to 1980 and have been brought before the widespread of digital technology, therefore they lack technological skills and confidence needed for the variety of ICT tools that belong in the digital age (Bennett, Maton and Kervin, 2008) and the younger generation (those born between 1980-1994) are known as 'digital natives' due to their expertise and confidence with ICT (Bennett, Maton and Kervin, 2008). As a result of parents being termed 'digital immigrants' and with children and young people constantly being surrounded by different types of media such as mobile phone, the internet, and television. Parents will often at times be engaged in battle with their children as they work out and balance the advantages both educationally and socially against the negative effects that some of the media types might have on the children's behaviour, attitudes and safety (Livingstone and Helsper, 2008).
There are various parental control programmes available to download on the Internet for example, K9 Web Protection (http://www1.k9webprotection.com/) and Norton Online Family (https://onlinefamily.norton.com/familysafety/loginStart.fs) which allow parents to download and protect their children.
Research by Davies (2011) reported that primary-school aged children tended to willingly comply to their parent's authority regarding the use of their technologies, as they were uncertain and anxious about dangers relating to adult content and viruses (Davies, 2011).
Research by Ofcom (2011) reported that 88% of children aged 8-11 in their sample having parental rules about using the internet as well as 77% of children aged 8-11 in their sample having parental rules about using mobile phones.
Social Influences affecting Gender
Socialisation appears frequently with literature on gender and ICT. Socialisation includes the influence from peers, parents, teachers and the media (BECTA, 2008). The influence has been found to affect girls' confidence, attitudes and self-efficacy towards ICT (Becta 2008). Research by Cooper (2006) supported this notion; girls learn that computers are "boys' toys" leading to their anxiety levels increasing and their interest and performance decreases (Cooper, 2006).
Therefore, it is important that both boys and girls see that women use computers as well as men (Cooper and Weaver, 2003, p.114) as experiences with computers from an early age can cause the belief that computers are a 'male domain'. The anxiety and negative attitudes that illustrate girls' future interactions with a computer confirms this. The process continues throughout higher education and is emphasised within the workplace (Cooper and Weaver, 2003, p.38)
Colley and Comber (2003) cited in Palmén (2011) through their research found significant gender differences. Boys were more self-confident with computers and they liked computers more, they also rated themselves higher with computing ability compared to girls of the same age (Palmén, 2011). On the other hand, it has been noted that UK girls claim similar levels of skills that boys have, this could possibly suggest a gain in either confidence or skills among UK girls or it could be stimulated by the rapid growth in the use of online communication and networking (Livingstone, et al, 2011).
The Key Themes:
What uses are there?
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British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta), (2008). How do boys and girls differ in their use of ICT? Available from http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/8318/1/gender_ict_briefing.pdf (Accessed 11 February 2012).
Cooper, J. (2006). 'The Digital Divide: the special case of gender', Journal of Computer Assisted Learning', 22, pp.320-334.
Cooper, J, and Weaver K (2003). Gender and Computers: Understanding the Digital Divide. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.
Devine, P. and Llyod, K. (2012). 'Internet Use and Psychological Well-being among 10-year old and 11-year old Children', Child Care in Practice, 18(1), pp. 5-22.
E-Learning Foundation, (no date) About Us. (Available from http://www.e-learningfoundation.com/about-us1) (Accessed 5 October 2012).
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Eynon, R. and Geniets, A (2012). On the Periphery? Understanding Low
and Discontinued Internet Use Amongst Young People in Britain. (Available from http://www.nominettrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/NT%20lapsed%20Internet%20users%20final.pdf) (Accessed 5 October 2012).
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Livingstone, S., Haddon, L., Görzig, A., and Ólafsson, K. (2010). Risks and safety on the internet: the UK report. LSE, London: EU Kids Online.
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Kent, N, and Facer K. (2004). 'Different worlds? A comparison of young people's home and school ICT use', Journal of Computer Assisted Learning', 20, pp. 440-455.
Ofcom (2011). Children and parents: media use and attitudes report. (Available at http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/media-literacy/oct2011/Children_and_parents.pdf) (Accessed 7 October 2012).
Office for National Statistics (2008) Internet Access 2008 Households and Individuals. (Available at: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rdit2/internet-access---households-and-individuals/2008/index.html) (Accessed 5 October 2012).
Office for National Statistics (2012). Internet Access - Households and Individuals, 2012. (Available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/rdit2/internet-access---households-and-individuals/2012/stb-internet-access--households-and-individuals--2012.html) (Accessed 5 October 2012).
Palmén, R. (2011) 'Girls, Boys and ICT in the UK: An Empirical Review and Competing Policy Agendas', International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, 3(2), pp. 407-423.
Sefton-Green, J (2004). Literature Review in Informal Learning with Technology Outside School. Bristol: FutureLab.
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Van Dijk, J. (2006). 'Digital divide research, achievements and shortcomings', Poetics, 34: 221- 235.