New education gap emerging in families

September 23, 2002

A new education gap between the rich and the poor may be being created by the Government's emphasis on home learning says new research. Whilst publishers have seen the introduction of new media into schools and homes as a market opportunity many poorer parents are less able to afford what they produce. 'The Government's emphasis on testing is also leading to a narrowing in the range of material available with thousands of competing revision aids but less general non fiction,' says Professor David Buckingham, author of the research.

The ESRC funded research at the Institute of Education in London aimed to identify how the main characteristics of the production and distribution of educational media worked and how the producer's assumptions about their target audiences and their educational aims impacted the product. 'We also wanted to find out how families used these products in their everyday lives, how they interpreted the texts and what they believed constituted a worthwhile educational activity,' says Professor Buckingham.

The research looked at three different types of educational material:'In the competitive world of publishing there is a tendency to play safe resulting in a narrowing of the range of products available to the consumer' says Professor Buckingham. 'However, there is also a growing pressure on publishers to appeal directly to children by providing material which is 'entertaining' as well as 'educational',' he adds.

The research found a blurring of the boundaries between home and school and a lukewarm response to the Government's encouragement of parents to take a more active role in their children's education. 'Our survey of 800 parents of children aged between five and 13 in four London schools showed that although parents generally support their children's education they do not want to be turned into teachers,' explains Professor Buckingham.

The research also found that the Government's promotion of learning in the home may be completely at odds with the realities of family life. 'Whilst some 'aspiring' parents embraced it enthusiastically most thought of it as unrealistic and that their educational responsibilities could be more effectively met in less formal, didactic ways,' says Professor Buckingham.

Although nearly all parents in the research cited education as one reason for purchasing a home computer fathers are still perceived as the experts in computers and mothers remain sceptical about new media expressing a personal preference for books. 'As for the children - they were primarily interested in the entertainment aspects of these materials. Most said that the educational aspects of the material was boring,' says Professor Buckingham.
For more information contact: Professor David Buckingham, Culture, Language and Communication, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL. Tel: 44-207-612-6515

Or Lesley Lilley or Iain Stewart, ESRC External Relations, telephone 01793-413119/413032.

1. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is

2. REGARD is the ESRC's database of research. It provides a key source of information on ESRC social science research awards and all associated publications and products. The website can be found at

Economic & Social Research Council

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