Closing the Digital Divide: Empowering Students and Teachers to Thrive During Covid-19: Verizon and Digital Promise
As technology grows more ubiquitous and advanced, the “digital divide” between those who have access to technology and those who do not widens every year. More than 52 percent of the world’s population still does not have internet access, including more than 21 million people in the United States. In addition, the “homework gap” affects 15 percent of U.S. households with kids, who lack the connectivity needed to complete schoolwork at home.
In 2012, Verizon launched Verizon Innovative Learning (VIL) to address the digital divide and to bring innovation to education to under-resourced schools, enabling students to develop the skills needed to put them on a path to success in today’s digital world. It’s a key part of Citizen Verizon, Verizon’s responsible business plan for economic, environmental and social advancement.. In partnership with nonprofit Digital Promise, the program provides 1:1 devices for students and teachers in select Title I middle and high schools, connectivity with up to 10GB of monthly 4G LTE data, which was increased to 30GB due to the pandemic, and professional development support for teachers to effectively integrate technology into the classroom. Verizon Innovative Learning also installs innovative learning labs and creates specific mentoring opportunities for students from rural and minority communities through its year-round STEM enrichment programs.
When the pandemic hit and lockdown began and schools were closed, Digital Promise and their technology coaches supported schools to make their transition to remote learning and provide feedback to Verizon in real time about the challenges teachers and students were facing in having to cover their own data outside of the school grounds.
Well-positioned to help students and teachers smoothly transition to remote learning through Verizon Innovative Learning schools, Verizon added an additional 111 schools to the program for the 2020/2021 school year, reaching 56,000 more students with access and devices.
Students not only found confidence and success in completing schoolwork, but also put their skills to good use to help others: Miami VIL students served as an IT team to troubleshoot remote learning issues for students and teachers in their school, and VIL students from Cleveland to California used their 3D printing technology and skills to create PPE for essential workers.
While we know devices are important, so is the access to reliable internet connection. At the start of the pandemic, Verizon stepped up to increase device data from 10GB to 30GB and has since also launched a new flexible program model that provides free hotspots to schools with existing 1:1 device programs to meet a critical demand to support students that don’t have reliable home internet access. Then they shifted focus for 2020 to invest in scalable and measurable programs to support the wider school community outside of VIL schools. Informed by their Digital Promise partner of the challenges on the ground during the pandemic, Verizon introduced two new innovative resources: a free Teacher Training Pathway platform and a STEM Activity Center.
Teacher Training Pathways is a free platform offering courses to help teachers become more efficient and effective in delivering technology-integrated instruction. The training program is available to all K-12 educators across the nation. The professional development platform for teachers was developed by the team to bring the lessons learned and key skills from the VIL program to help teachers become more efficient and effective in delivering technology-integrated instruction as the COVID-19 crisis continued.
In addition, Verizon expanded its support for teachers and students through the STEM Activity Center, an online toolkit that provides STEM resources and hands-on activities that introduce K-12 students to new skills within augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D design and is designed to help teachers and parents supplement their lesson plans for remote learning. Parents can access the activities, created with non-profit partner Project Lead The Way, to help supplement at-home learning, focused on introducing learning through engaging technology.
Finally, Verizon partnered up with The New York Times to offer all Verizon Innovative Learning teachers access to curated educational content from The Times’s Learning Network, as well as free access for all students and teachers in high schools across the U.S. to NYTimes.com through September 1, 2021.
While VIL does not generate revenue for Verizon, it provides significant shared value to the business and to the future tech workforce and showcases the power of technology to move communities forward. As a CSR initiative, it demonstrates Verizon’s strong commitment to social impact, diversity in the workforce and education, and has led to a significant increase in brand affinity among general consumers, employees, investors and other key stakeholders.
Verizon has an ambitious goal of providing 10M youth with digital skills training by 2030 and is currently reaching over 400 middle and high schools, 10 new high schools and 480,000 students.