Latino families now represent the largest ethnic minority in the US. The Pew Hispanic Research Center predicts that the Latino population will grow from 16 percent of the population today to 29 percent by 2050. Finding ways to address the unique challenges these families—including high rates of child poverty and low academic achievement—are crucial to the country’s future. Research shows that Latino families are among the biggest consumers of media. Yet, like the rest of the country, how they use media varies widely.
Researchers from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the National Center for Family Literacy are trying to learn more. They are supporting a unique effort to dig deeper into the media use practices of Latino families to find out how new technology might be used to help improve educational outcomes.
They’ve formed the Aprendiendo Juntos (“Learning Together”) Council (AJC), a group of researchers, practitioners, and policy experts who will work together to identify models and strategies to help Latino families use new media for learning.
“Latino and Hispanic families are pioneers in adapting new technologies in their communications practices and approaches to parenting and learning,” Michael Levine, executive director of the Cooney Center, said in a press release. “The new AJC initiative is intended to better understand those research-based practices and policies that will support young families to grow and prosper in a digital age.”
One of the projects being supported is an analysis of data on Latino families in a recent national survey of parents by researchers at Northwestern University.
“There is not a whole lot of research on Latino families especially with regard to media use,” one of the authors of the study, Alexis Lauricella told me in a recent interview. “We’ve seen in the past that media use is higher, especially with Latino and black families. In terms of culture, there are also ways in which Latino families are potentially different—in terms of family life, and we’d be interested in learning if and how this is related to media use.”
The National Center for Family Literacy also released a report on a recent forum on this issue. It describes “commitments to education, multi-dimensional and rich family communication patterns, and powerful intergenerational ties” as culturally specific assets that need to be drawn upon.
The AJC is also supporting field studies of the national Connect2Compete initiative in California and Arizona. The program provides access to technology through digital literacy training, discounted high-speed internet, and low-cost computers.
This is important, since the National Center for Family Literacy report also finds that “low-income families especially face difficult choices about allocating limited financial resources, and early research evidence from studies by the Cooney Center and others indicates that beliefs about family communication and educational priorities are shifting as the digital age hits home.”