The 2020s’ Biggest EdTech Advance? Access

If you weren’t sure whether you were impacted by the digital divide, you know now.

GUEST COLUMN | by Justina Nixon-Saintil

It’s 2020. We’re more connected than ever—or are we? If you weren’t sure whether you were impacted by the digital divide, you know now.

Schools across the country are grappling with the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus. With schools shut down and the Centers for Disease Control guidelines advocating for extended remote learning, many educators must find new ways through e-learning to keep their students engaged. But millions of students who live in under-resourced communities don’t have the connectivity or the devices at home, leaving them in the perilous position of falling behind.

“As a parent and as a public servant, I believe there are ways we can make sure that when crises like these [coronavirus] occur, every child has the ability to learn remotely because they have internet at home,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel recently told The Verge.

Brought Into Hyper Focus

The digital divide has been brought into hyper focus by the coronavirus, and this impacts the future for students as well as the future of this country. If technology isn’t accessible to our future engineers, innovators and scientists, and their teachers at an early age, many young people will have trouble participating in the workforce of the future.

Nearly 50 percent of today’s jobs won’t even be options for students by 2033, as more industries become automated. That’s why we prioritize digital inclusion and work with partners like Digital Promise: to give under-resourced schools and students the access to technology they need to succeed in today’s digital world.

Verizon Innovative Learning provides Title 1 middle schools across the U.S. with 24/7 connectivity, teacher training and new devices, which students can use at home. And we’ve done so since 2014. The schools in this program have shown statistically significant improvements in the percentage of students who reached or retained proficiency in math achievement between seventh and eighth grade.

Supporting the Teachers

While ensuring students are connected is our priority, we also must not forget the teachers, who had to rapidly adapt to find new and creative ways to provide for their students’ learning needs as schools closed and instruction shifted online in the past few weeks. Verizon Innovative Learning teachers are provided with professional development and a full-time coach to support technology-integrated instruction.

Eighty-nine percent of Verizon Innovative Learning teachers said that the program helped them explore new ways of teaching. For all teachers rapidly adapting during the pandemic, we have unlocked our learning-from-home resources, tips and strategies, which can be accessed at vilsconnection.org. From teacher strategies for home-based learning to teaching digital citizenship, we’re working to support all teachers virtually by giving them access to these resources that have been used for years within Verizon Innovative Learning.

“…we’ve tripled their data – from 10GB/month to 30GB/month – through the end of June, to ensure they continue to have the access they need to continue to learn.”

All of the students and teachers within the Verizon Innovative Learning program are now learning remotely, so we’ve tripled their data – from 10GB/month to 30GB/month – through the end of June, to ensure they continue to have the access they need to continue to learn. We’ve also donated $5 million to No Kid Hungry in support of their overall work to help feed school children from low-income families and their immediate focus to aid vulnerable children as millions of students are affected by school closings.

Mind the Gap

A new decade brought with it a new digital age of progress and promise. Fifth generation technology will allow greater volumes of information, knowledge and new kinds of virtual experiences to travel faster than the blink of an eye. Its promise in the classroom is unmatched. Simply put, we’re becoming more connected, and with that comes greater opportunities, but we must mind the gap. The greater we advance, there is also risk for a greater divide and never-ending homework gap for lower-income students. Technology will never be truly powerful if it rests in the hands of a select few.

Partnerships to address the digital divide are key to ensuring that students who lack tech resources at home don’t fall behind their connected peers, whether during pandemics or in everyday life. All students should have the same access so they can thrive in school and carry this forward to the digital workforce. It will take a coalition of public and private activists and advocates, along with businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations, working together to close the technology gap.

The next Ryan Coogler or Christina Koch might be sitting at a kitchen table with a pen trying to find the words to write an essay, but without a high-speed internet-enabled computer to complete the necessary research, we might never meet them or see their major advancement for society.

It’s 2020. No student should be wandering their community looking for a WiFi hotspot to complete their homework. Connectivity will be the greatest education technology advancement of this decade. This pandemic has shown us that we’re truly all in this together. It is our responsibility then to work together to end the digital divide and build the bridge that leads our students to successful futures. As we continually talk about the high-speed capabilities of our technology, we cannot be slow to act on this social issue.

Justina Nixon-Saintil is Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Verizon. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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