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Bridging the Digital Divide in Education



Marc Andreeson's post exhorting that it's time to build was hard hitting and stark, as the United States comes to grips in dealing with the current COVID 19 Pandemic Crisis and build resilience in the resurgence of the economy, in the post COVID era.

One of the radical shifts that is permanently going to change from the way it is currently being done, is the education sector - with accessibility, digitalization and measurable outcomes, as the biggest indicators of how nations would be able to compete and shape their successes, in their respective economies.


On the wealthy end of the spectrum, in households making more than $100,000 a year, 94% of people have PCs and laptops, smartphones, and home broadband. Seventy percent have a tablet. These families are ready for just about any possible form of connectivity.


For households that make under $30,000, the story is very different. Only half of these families have access to a computer at home. A majority rely on their smartphones—and the number of low-income households that use their smartphones to connect to the internet has doubled since 2013. The Federal Communications Commission estimates about 6.5 percent of Americans lack access to broadband internet, but other research suggests the true number could be twice as high. And many more Americans who can connect to internet service in their area do not subscribe due to the cost. Forty-four percent of low-income Americans still don’t have home broadband today. 


As a way forward, the development of AI technology as the core technology, needs to be combined with the five pillars of the learning life cycle: teaching, learning, practice, assessment and testing. Advent of the application of image and voice recognition functions to analyze issues and generate personalized solutions and feedback through deep learning, self-adaption and computing of data will be an emerging trend. Localization and translation of content (language), making it accessible (for the differently abled) and relevant to students is critical.


In this report, technology implications in the Education Sector, done by theboardiQ, there are three segments that will form the backbone of building the workforce of the future.


THE K12 SEGMENT:


  1. Orient the system towards outcomes: ensure that basic levels of education at the primary and high school levels are accessible by bridging the digital divide - monitor key factors fueling dropout ratios and taking concerted action in stemming the same.

  2. Provide tools to teachers and students: Access to digital tools is at the core of enabling quality education to the masses. Roughly one in five teens reported having difficulty doing their homework because of a lack of access to computers and the internet. Chicago Public School principals are begging for hardware for students, while hundreds of thousands of children in NYC are still without laptops as teaching goes virtual. Ten million students need computers and internet access now. So who should provide it? During the current COVID 19 Crisis, California has already distributed 70000 devices to remote part of the state with the help of companies such as Google (Chromebooks and free wifi hotspots); Apple with iPads; Microsoft with Surface Laptops and Lenovo are stepping up. But clearly more needs to be done. Smartphones are not a solution - on account of what is now being termed as a "homework gap" where students are unable or finding it difficult to do assignments on phones.

  3. Relevance of Content Creation and Automation: companies specializing in instructional design & content application solutions; educators designing digital curriculum and content across devices, integrating rich media like video and audio, as well as self- or online-instructor assessment, virtual instructions, cognitive science and AI technologies providing personalized tutoring and real-time feedback, are all going to be a reality in creating compelling and relevant content for this segment of students.


HIGHER EDUCATION:


  1. World Class Universities focused on Research and Development and Intellectual Property: US has the best Universities in the world - a concerted strategy, as courses go online, on democratizing and accessibility, making courses self paced, personalized, on demand as well as a rethink on structuring of admissions and fees will be key. The University of California system along with the US Army, generates the highest number of patents globally; this needs to be replicated across all Tier 1 and Tier 2 colleges. Exploring world labor pools (with favorable age and other demographics) by providing them access to top quality education will be critical. Establish a system of project/researcher specific research focused grants aimed at solving real life problems with significant economic impact in the core sectors.

  2. Reform of the Regulatory System – evaluate Federal involvement to augment State legislation, to fund education led reforms and investment in core sectors driving future of employment and skill gaps. The Great American Economic Revival Groups focused on Public Private Partnership is a great initiative, where more than top 200 Business Leaders have been roped in to revive core sectors such as - Agriculture, Banking, Construction/Labor/Workforce, Defense, Energy, Financial Services, Food & Beverage, Healthcare, Hospitality, Manufacturing, Real Estate, Retail, Technology, Telecommunications, Transportation and Sports. Curriculum and content in the Higher Education, needs to be formulated keeping the future requirements in these core sectors.

  3. Measure Outcomes - establish a mechanism that clearly ranks Educational Institutions on their contribution to the national macro-economic indicators - be it an uptake in generation of employment or creating entrepreneurs focused on solving the nation's top requirements apart from the traditional outcomes like college completion rates or loan repayment rates (which are essential but need to augment the first two).


SKILLING:


  1. Through SkillsUSA, a United States career and technical student organization serving more than 395,000 high school, college and middle school students and professional members enrolled in training programs in trade, technical and skilled service occupations, including health occupations - there needs to be a concerted approach to revamp curriculum and do an outreach to generate jobs for the displaced segments in the current COVID 19 pandemic crisis.

  2. Re-skilling and retooling for catering to the new emerging focus on building national capability, in the core sectors identified by the Federal Government is key - tie in the agenda to the The Great American Economic Revival Groups


Apart from Federal and State Governments roles in building and equipping the workforce of the future, eliciting the support, funding and partnerships with Corporate America, is critical.


Elon Musk's audacious attempt with Starlink, is helping students in rural and remote corners of the US with internet access. As mentioned above, the biggest and wealthiest Companies (that have huge largesses in cash), can utilize their Corporate and Social Responsibility and Foundation budgets to create an Education Stimulus Package. Apple, Google and Microsoft have made contributions. Apple has offered educators free 1:1 coaching sessions with Apple Professional Learning specialists. It also produced a new video series educating educators about remote learning, and provided resources to school IT about configuring devices for it. Google pledged $10 million to a Distance Learning Fund to “support organizations around the globe that help educators access the resources they need,” while providing some free Hangouts Meet features. This is in addition to the free wifi hotspots and chromebooks. Microsoft is “providing guidance and resources for educators, administrators, and caregivers whose children are shifting to online learning,” and it recently joined the UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition to contribute “resources and expertise around technology, connectivity, capacity building, and content.”


Clearly more needs to be done!

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