How to bridge digital divides and educate children in Europe and around the world

Education is a fundamental human right and a pillar of democracy. But during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimated more than 1.6 billion learners – 91 percent of the world’s school population – had their learning affected. Matching students with connected devices was profoundly important, yet colossally challenging, for both families and teachers, write Qualcomm’s Audrey Scozzaro Ferrazzini and Elliott Levine.
Source: Qualcomm

By Audrey Scozzaro Ferrazzini and Elliott Levine

Audrey Scozzaro Ferrazzini is Senior Director Government Affairs for Qualcomm in Europe and Elliott Levine is Director of Worldwide Education for Qualcomm.

08 Apr 2021

During the pandemic, we at Qualcomm wanted to play our part in making sure students in urban, rural, and remote areas had continuous access to learning. Although Covid-19 brought the digital education divide into sharp focus, it’s not a new issue.

We’ve always believed in the power of technology to realise people’s potential and tackle societal challenges. And since our early days we’ve focused especially on education. Our corporate responsibility team has been helping kids in STEM, even in remote learning environments. While our global Qualcomm Wireless Reach initiative is taking advantage of faster and more reliable mobile technology to help remote teachers be more effective and distanced students achieve more.

What the pandemic has done is dramatically exacerbate inequalities in educational opportunities. Which in turn has created a greater responsibility to increase access to digital learning for every child so that they can be free to fulfil their potential. This is the spirit of the Global Education Coalition of UNESCO, which we joined back in November 2020.

Yesterday’s best efforts

In the past, schools and educational bodies wanting to connect remote students used solutions they knew and understood – combining affordable devices with Wi-Fi or mobile hotspot connectivity. Yesterday’s best efforts helped transform the lives of millions of children who’d previously had no access to education. But they weren’t immune to problems – from unwanted content, security breaches and bundles of red tape for IT administrators, to drained device batteries and the bandwidth challenges of sharing a connection with a whole classroom.

Today’s paradigm shift

With school hours and learning demands on students trending up, relying on the same old architectures and connectivity will very soon hold back tomorrow’s digital education. Leveraging a new generation of learning devices with embedded cellular connectivity and multi-day battery life, powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon compute platforms, are empowering more educators and students to teach and learn remotely. Creating a new generation of always-on, always-connected devices gives every student access to digital learning whenever and wherever they need it. For that idea to succeed, it just takes the right combination of three ingredients – broadband connectivity, battery life and security.

“We’ve always believed in the power of technology to realise people’s potential and tackle societal challenges. And since our early days we’ve focused especially on education”

Charting the right course

Now isn’t the time for looking in our wake; we need to chart a course toward truly inclusive education. Elementary, secondary, and post-secondary institutions – as well as education policymakers – should be dedicating themselves to agreeing a vision for tomorrow’s learning. In our current political waters, navigating toward a post-Covid world presents a brilliant opportunity to close the digital divide faster. In this spirit, the European Commission’s Digital Education Action Plan is the perfect compass to help design new and ambitious policies.

Making education fit for the Digital Age

To get underway, we must make good use of post-pandemic recovery packages to invest in as high-capacity broadband connectivity as possible – especially for a new generation of learning devices with embedded cellular connectivity. European funding needs to be equally accessible to all schools and local authorities across the European continent, so they all have an equal chance to properly equip themselves for a digital learning transformation. And policymakers should be encouraged to design and launch digital education plans with broadband connectivity ‘by default’ – as an assumed, integral part of every future classroom.

The freedom to teach and learn from virtually anywhere is in our sights, and we hope in yours too.

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