With almost 7.3 billion cellular connections and 3.8 billion unique subscribers around the world, there is no denying mobile technology has had a huge impact on all of our lives. More importantly, mobile is helping to bridge the digital divide—serving as the first, and many times only, way that millions of people in underserved parts of the world access the internet. So, it’s not surprising that consumers and experts alike continue to look to the mobile industry—and companies like Qualcomm—for innovation.
Last night, I spoke at the 2016 ASU GSV Summit, where I talked about the influence of mobile on education technology. Qualcomm has deep roots in education. Since our inception, we’ve made education one of our fundamental commitments. And during the past 30 years, we’ve looked for opportunities to contribute to improving education in various ways, including technology and products, funding programs, and community engagement. I’m proud to add that just yesterday at TEDx San Diego, my father Dr. Irwin M. Jacobs, our co-founder and former chairperson, was presented with the Digital Promise Distinguished Service Award by co-host Digital Promise for his contributions to technology and education.
We, as an industry, have a tremendous opportunity to use mobile as a catalyst for impactful change in education. However, in order to ensure all students have equal access to education materials, online tools, and resources, we first need to recognize and address barriers such as the homework gap.
The homework gap is the learning chasm that exists between students that have access to broadband internet connectivity outside of school and those that have unreliable access or no access at all. A Pew Research study found that in the U.S. 70 percent of teachers are assigning homework that requires internet access, yet there are 5 million U.S. households with school age children that lack internet connectivity. To bridge this gap, we must tackle the issue of accessibility.
The road to accessibility
We know that nurturing and strengthening education leads to continued innovation and, in the long run, economic growth. That is part of the reason why we’ve developed and sponsored programs around the world designed to inspire young students. The Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab is a combined makerspace and classroom where we host interactive mini-lectures for 6th to 8th graders from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. More than 6,500 middle school students have attended Thinkabit over the last two years where they've learned how to code and create robots. The program does more than broaden their imagination with technology, though. Thinkabit introduces the students to the World of Work and, specifically, STEM careers as viable possibilities for their futures.
We’re also proud to collaborate with FIRST, another educational organization. Since 2007, we've been closely involved with FIRST, providing technology support and thousands of volunteer hours as well as providing monetary sponsorship of several million dollars. This year, the teams are actually using Qualcomm Snapdragon technology to power the robots in competition. Moreover, it's incredible to see the growth of FIRST over the last nine years—from 11,000 teams to more than 47,000 teams in the 2015-2016 season.
These two STEM-specific programs are a big priority for us, as they're educating and inspiring the innovators of tomorrow—our future workforce. We believe that it's our corporate social responsibility to support STEM-based initiatives in order to reverse the U.S. trend of fewer professionals entering the science and technology fields.
In terms of incorporating technology into the classroom, during the 2014-2015 school year, we worked with AT&T Wireless to conduct a mobile education platform proof-of-concept trial. As part of the program, participating students were given LTE-enabled mobile devices (tablets) that made anytime, anywhere learning possible. All 77 sixth-grade students—59 percent of whom didn’t have internet at home—were given a safe connection to access the digital assets that could help them succeed. Additional benefits of the program included the school’s ability to manage LTE usage on student devices.
Our findings: 38 percent of the students who didn’t have internet at home admitted that before receiving their tablets they often had trouble completing their homework assignments because of their lack of access to the internet. The tablets allowed students to not only complete their homework, but also communicate with their teachers and classmates 24/7. Of the students who lacked home internet access, 96 percent reported that the connected device helped them become better students. And 78 percent of students said that they were able to work with peers more often because they were able to take their always-on tablets home.
The need for mobile-friendly education solutions is evident: since 2010, there have been 38.5 million mobile computing devices sold into U.S. education. In 2015, 78 percent of elementary school students reported that they regularly use a tablet. Through collaboration among tech companies, schools, and educators, mobile devices and solutions can play an even larger and more critical role in education.
The future of education
We look forward to seeing how mobile technology and education will continue to converge, but we also know that with aspirations come challenges. In order for opportunity to become reality, we must look for ways to fund the programs and technologies that will ensure that students are not only able to access the internet outside of school, but that teachers receive the training needed to confidently incorporate tech into their curriculum.
The ASU GSV Summit is an important part of this conversation. It brings together key stakeholders in academia and technology to develop solutions that will meet the needs of students, teachers, and schools. The goal: work toward improving the education segment and bridging the homework gap. Education is too important for us to let barriers get in the way.