The current crisis is bringing to light disparities that will impact tomorrow’s workforce.
Things were going reasonably well for the next generation(s), at least until a few weeks ago, when the coronavirus pandemic caused significant disruptions to education worldwide. Physical classrooms were suspended, and home-schooling became the new normal.
If you had asked me what’s the problem, I would have said, none. Grab your laptop/tablet, hook up to the internet (Wi-Fi/mobile), and continue where you stopped yesterday. Obviously, I was thinking about the rather privileged school my friend’s kids are attending in the U.S. For them, laptops and checking into the school’s online learning/homework system has long been standard. Apple laptops are available to them free of charge. And, of course, their home is equipped with access to fast internet from every corner of the house or their cell phones.
At another school in the same city, the “less privileged” attend class without online learning/homework portals. They don’t have access to laptops or tablets through the school, and at home, they use whatever technology they can find.
Next stop, a city college where most students have a laptop or tablet. The college has an online assignment/learning portal. In this case, however, not all teachers are confident using technology such as Zoom to continue teaching while physical distancing regulations are in place.
And now, a huge step across the pond is Germany, a world leader in many things, but as we saw over the past few weeks, not so much at home. With everybody working and learning from home, internet speeds in certain regions are struggling to keep pace. Worse, in Germany, there has been a terrible lack of online schooling preparedness. Several friends and industry colleagues have complained to me about their double challenge of working from home and monitoring traditional schooling, which is all paper-based with no download or upload portals for learning materials or homework submission. This is particularly prevalent in what Germans call Grundschule, the first four years of school.
The situation is similar in the U.K., with many kids struggling as the only computer in the house is a smartphone.
This is a Wakeup Call!
We need a radically different approach to how we think about technology—internet access in particular. Why not treat it like any other utility like gas, water, electricity? Would we want to live in a house or work in an office without water and electricity? No! So why are we accepting education without internet access and portable devices such as laptops and tablets?
Think about your welcome package when you start a new job: cell phone, laptop, employee manual, branded pens and notepads, and maybe even a reusable water bottle and a nice branded coffee mug.
Why don’t pupils and students receive a similar starter pack: backpack, notepad, pencils, schoolbooks, and a simple laptop or tablet that is internet-enabled. What is holding back some of the wealthiest nations on Earth on investing in our future?
Solving the Education Bottleneck
Just imagine the following scenario: An assessment of School A shows X number of students/pupils, teachers, and printers. The desired outcome of the new printing/document management landscape includes an X number of printers, software, internet access (Wi-Fi/mobile), laptops/tablets for students and teachers, and a financing model (and partner) to make this new learning model affordable for all parties.
Can large corporations, local governments, dealerships, financing partners, and schools find ways to cooperate and give technology@school a boost in the right direction? We have bright kids in our schools whom we can encourage to participate. We have highly motivated teachers/administrators who surely will give their support.
Build the Future
Every day, we read about how important it is to get a good education, and how robots, artificial intelligence, algorithms, and other technological advancements will impact the future of work. How is it possible that so many kids can’t access what is required to build future-proof, competitive knowledge? After all, they are the next workforce and the next generation of taxpayers. Moreover, they are the ones shaping our future retirement.
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