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How Latino Families Use Educational Content and What That Means for Communities

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Technology has enabled the spread of options for how children can learn, but in many cases, the research has yet to catch up. When it comes to educational content, not all families consume media in the same way and differences can exist within ethnic and socioeconomic groups. 

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop released the results of a survey that takes a deeper dive into how Hispanic-Latino families use educational content and the platforms by which they experience it. The Cooney Center surveyed 682 Hispanic-Latino parents of children ages 2-10, and the results may inform the development of educational content, policy and technology.

According to the survey, “educational content was defined for the parent as ‘products that teach a child some type of lesson, such as an academic or social skill, or are good for a child’s learning or growth.’ ”

The survey was part of a larger nationally representative survey of family media use of 1,577 parents. Hispanic-Latino respondents were categorized as English-only, bilingual and Spanish-only. Here are some of the findings:

Spanish-only families had the least access to digital technologies.
Among Hispanic-Latino populations, 43 percent of Spanish-only parents had computers versus 98 percent English-only and 73 percent bilingual. High-speed Internet, which is crucial to connecting the devices, was used by 43 percent of Spanish-only parents versus 86 percent English-only and 68 percent bilingual. Television ownership was nearly ubiquitous at 98 percent, and that was the dominant platform for Spanish-only families to get educational content. Of those surveyed, 71 percent of Spanish-only parents had less than a high school education, compared with 30 percent of bilingual respondents and 10 percent of English-only speakers.


Educational television is engaging.
Contrary to its perception as a passive medium (versus phones, tablets and computers that often require physical interaction with the content), educational television can be highly engaging because of the opportunities for families to sit together to talk about what they’re seeing and experiencing.

Through joint media engagement, families can talk about what the children are viewing and discuss how it relates to their lives. This stands in contrast to electronic devices, which can often be a solitary experience, though some activities can be shared. According to the survey, 76 percent of children who watched educational TV with a parent did so for an average of 104 minutes. On the computer, 47 percent of children shared that time with a parent for an average of 64 minutes.

“TV viewing looks passive. People are sitting in front of the TV and the children are not physically interactive. But it is certainly not cognitively passive,” said report co-author June Lee, describing what happens when children are watching educational content with engaged adults.

From Aprendiendo en Casa: Media as a Resource for Learning Among Hispanic-Latino Families.
From Aprendiendo en Casa: Media as a Resource for Learning Among Hispanic-Latino Families.

Parental engagement is platform agnostic.
For all households, discussing what is being viewed can open up opportunities to talk about language and learn new words. This can also lead to imaginative play because kids create stories out of what they saw.

“What we’re finding more broadly is that when there’s a common interest, there’s more conversation, and activity that’s sparked by doing that activity together,” said report co-author Brigid Barron. But the results around TV viewing don’t mean that there aren’t opportunities for families to interact on other devices. There’s a great range of resources that are available for imaginative play. People can search and find things that are aligned with their interests, according to Barron. “YouTube leads to real-world activities.”

From Aprendiendo en Casa: Media as a Resource for Learning Among Hispanic-Latino Families.
From Aprendiendo en Casa: Media as a Resource for Learning Among Hispanic-Latino Families.

Strong desire for resources for finding educational content and understanding technology.
Latino parents are looking for help in finding educational content for their kids on all platforms. About 79 percent of Hispanic-Latino respondents said they were looking for how to find good educational content, versus 49 percent of white parents and 69 percent of black parents. Among the Hispanic-Latino respondents, 91 percent of Spanish-only speakers are looking for that help, versus 55 percent of English-only respondents.

On digital platforms, parents may not have the experience to judge what makes an app educational. Apps are often self-described as educational, so what constitutes educational is dependent on the company that creates the app.

“Parents are trained to know the educational value of TV over time,” said Cooney Center executive director Michael Levine, but they may not be as experienced with evaluating apps. “The level of mistrust is well placed because a lot of the stuff that’s being developed in the apps market is not connected to the research process or an intentional educational process.”

Parents can turn to several educational content curation sites, such as Common Sense Media, Graphite or Children’s Technology Review for guidance, according to an additional report published by the Cooney Center, authored by Bruce Fuller, Jose Ramon Lizarraga and James H. Gray. However, while sites offer search results in Spanish, the services are not specifically tailored to Latino students, parents or educators.

In addition to websites, researchers identified the role community organizations can play in sharing what content is educational and provide an opening for greater learning opportunities. “One of the things we talk about is the implications for community organizations and libraries to find ways to help everyone by learning and always being reflective of what the choices are,” said Brigid Barron. “There’s a lot of high-quality media and there’s a lot of junk.”

You can find the detailed reports and recommendations below:

Digital Media and Latino Families: New Channels for Learning, Parenting, and Local Organizing

Aprendiendo en Casa: Media as a Resource for Learning Among Hispanic-Latino Families

Connecting to Learn: Promoting Digital Equity for America’s Hispanic Families

Learning at Home: Families’ Educational Media Use in America

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