Cyber-Speed and Scholastic Success: The Effect of Internet Inequality on Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic

University essay from Handelshögskolan i Stockholm/Institutionen för nationalekonomi

Abstract: Technology is an integral part of modern society, but not everyone has equal access or quality. While this inequity in technology, known as the digital divide, affects many aspects of people's lives, education is one prominent area. Researchers have found that unequal access to and knowledge of computers, the internet, and other technologies can lead to differences in education outcomes. Within this paper, I further the research about the effect of the digital divide on education by looking at internet inequality in the United States. Specifically, I look how at the shift to online distance learning affects the education of American students with differing internet quality, as opposed to access. For my analysis, I exploit the natural phenomenon of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which forced in-person schools to shift to online learning in late March of 2020. Using two difference-in-differences specifications, I explore the effect of internet quality, proxied by county-level median download speed, on three education outcomes: ACT scores, AP test scores, and graduation rates. I find that there is a significant effect of internet inequality on graduation rates, suggesting that students with low-quality internet are disproportionately affected by the shift to online learning in 2020 relative to the previous years. I find no significant effect on ACT scores or AP test scores.

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