The "homework gap": SA learners who don't have access to the internet, don't have the same opportunities

Technological advances certainly has made things a lot easier, hasn’t it?

We can send texts and mails that deliver in seconds, we can tweet, post and Instagram our opinions for the world to see at the click of a button and we can Google just about any burning questions we have, provided we’ve got one of the millions of apps there is on our mobile devices.

So forget your dated encyclopaedias and boring old textbooks. The Internet has become just about everyone’s go-to resource.

Well, not everyone’s.

SoulPancake and Sprint explored what happens when students in particular don’t have access to the resources they need. Watch:

The US researchers split the group in two, had each team sit around a table on a stage with a curtain separating them, and asked them trivia in full view of their moms. The one team was given laptops connected to wi-fi internet, the other was given textbooks and encyclopedia.

The first team thrived, answering each question within seconds, becoming more confident by the minute; the other team tried their best at first but eventually despondently hung their heads in shame, unaware that they didn’t have the same opportunities as the other team. They felt embarrassed and disappointed in themselves, even though the circumstances were grossly unfair.

What is really an economic inequality is called the “homework gap”.

Considering that 70% of teachers in the US assign homework that requires kids to use the internet, the vast 5 million kids that don’t have access to high-speed internet at home would fail to complete or efficiently do their homework. As you can imagine, the situation in South Africa is similarly disheartening, if not worse.

In South Africa

Source: General Household Survey of 2016, Stats SA

According to the latest General Household Survey of 2016, around 60% of South African households had at least one member of the family who had access to or used the Internet either at home, work, place of study or at cafes. But only 9,5% had access at home.

More specifically, the Western Cape had the highest household access at 24% with Gauteng second at 15%, and Limpopo with the lowest at 2% (rounded up).

So while kids can go to internet cafes after school, provided they are old enough, of course, and they can use their mobile devices if they can afford to despite South Africa's high data rates, there are very few students (9,5% to be exact) who actually have access to the internet at home to do their homework.

Keep in mind that we’re not saying homework cannot be done without the use of the internet. Books will always be an important and valuable resource. All we’re saying is that, much like one of the students exclaimed in the video, it’s just “such an unfair advantage”.

The moms of the students highlighted a very specific point saying that sometimes, without particular resources, kids don’t really stand a chance.

“Someone may not be pulling the grade not because they’re not smart, they just don’t have access to what all the other kids have.”

While we could open the discussion on free education once more in light of Jacob Zuma’s latest announcement this past weekend, we’d simply like to draw your attention as a teacher, parent and student, to the fact that learners may not have access to the same resources.

And unfortunately, as a result, the same opportunities.

That being said, it's not all doom and gloom. Free public wifi is growing in South Africa with initiatives such as Project Isizwe, hoping to bridge the digital divide and homework gap.

Read more:

Do you think it's important for kids to have access to the Internet to do their homework? Tell us by emailing to and we may publish your comments. 

Sign up to our weekly newsletter to receive Parent24 stories directly to your inbox.
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24