It is difficult to teach 21st century skills to students who do not have access to 21st century technology. A new federal study should reinforce concerns thoughtful West Virginians already had about that.
Only 64.6 percent of Mountain State households own computers, according to the "Exploring the Digital Nation" study. Only one state, Mississippi, has a lower rate.
Going hand-in-hand with that number was the study's report on broadband Internet access. Only 59 percent of West Virginia homes, the third-worst rate in the nation, have it (Mississippi and New Mexico had lower rates).
Many people do just fine without computers and Internet access. But ours is an increasingly digital world. Some level of knowledge of and capability with computers and the Internet have become essential for young people.
What percentage of West Virginians under, say, 30 years of age do not own computers and have broadband access was not specified by the study. It also did not look into other important factors such as "smart phone" use.
Clearly, however, access to and familiarity with digital communications is a concern in our state.
Educators have known that for several years. That is why computer "laboratories" are set up in schools. It also is why most libraries provide Internet-linked computers for use by the public. It is one reason why some institutions of higher learning require students to have computers and sometimes furnish them, adding the cost into tuition and fees.
Almost by definition, access to computers is not a problem for college and university students. But what about those in public schools?
The answer to ensuring all students get to use computers and work on the Internet is not to hand out free laptops, though there are proponents of that idea. It simply is not economically feasible.
But the federal study makes it plain West Virginia's educators, more than in most other states, need to ensure all students have adequate access to computers and the Internet - and ample time to make use of the tools.
Also implied by the study is that more resources are needed to be certain as many West Virginians as possible have access to computers at public libraries.
We bend over backwards in West Virginia to guarantee all public school students get nutritional lunches and, increasingly, breakfasts - regardless of ability to pay. We do the same with textbooks. Now, we need to ensure we are doing the same with digital learning tools.