How Verizon Plans to Reach 2 Million More Students Lacking Access to Technology

Most of us assume that everyone has access to mobile phones, computers, and high-speed internet. But did you know, only 49% of African Americans and 51% of Hispanics have high-speed internet at home, which limits their ability to learn and excel? In fact, recent research shows that 64% of middle school students are lacking access to technology, which hinders their schooling and lowers their expectations for their futures.

Since 2012, Verizon, one of the largest Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies in the world, has stepped up to the plate to be a part of the solution. Through the company’s Innovative Learning (VIL) program, they’ve helped over a million students. Recently, the company announced their commitment to helping 2 million more students by 2021. This expansion includes 50 new Verizon Innovative Learning Schools and a new Gen Z coalition of students and social activists aged 11-22 working to bring attention to the issues of education inequality

We caught up with Rose Kirk, The Verizon Foundation’s chief corporate responsibility officer, to learn more about her role and the reasons behind the company’s commitment to helping students who lack the access to technology.

Black Enterprise: Explain your role as the Chief Corporate Social Responsibility officer?

Kirk: Verizon is using its many assets to create education and economic equality for the most disadvantaged. In turn, this preserves our environment, creates sustainable communities, ensures quality healthcare, enables gender equality, and also drives entrepreneurship across the globe. In my role as Verizon’s Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer, I either directly oversee that work or greatly influence our marketplace approach.

For example, since 2012, Verizon has been dedicated to closing the digital divide through a transformative program called Verizon Innovative Learning, which provides free technology, free internet access, and hands-on learning experiences to help give students at underresourced schools the education they deserve. Powered by a next-gen, technology-infused curriculum that fundamentally changes the way teachers teach and students learn, Verizon Innovative Learning is giving kids the ability to do more in this world.

Why is Verizon making such a significant investment in the education of students in Title 1 schools across the U.S.? 

We have to. Right now, millions of American students lack the access to technology and the skills they need to succeed as we approach the Fourth Industrial Revolution—an era where technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, automation, advanced robotics, and drones will change almost every facet of our society. Tablets, laptops, cell phones, and Wi-Fi are essential. These tools—and the technical knowledge tied to them—make research possible both in class and at home, allow students to keep up with lesson plans and assignments, and give them equal, fundamental access to the world of possibilities.

Unfortunately, too many students in America lack the tech resources they need in order to be successful. The digital divide in our middle schools is creating an alarming state of education inequality throughout the U.S.

A full 53% of middle-school students without tech education feel anxious and sad about their futures. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of middle-school kids who don’t have technology are revising their dreams and lowering their expectations for their futures.  All of our students, no matter their zip codes, deserve the same technology tools and resources so they can excel academically, personally, professionally, and emotionally.

Since 2012, what have you been most surprised to learn about the community you serve or results from the initiative?

The results are frankly amazing: VIL students show improvements in math and reading, and they’re more invested in their futures. Students in VIL schools are 53% more engaged in school, score 3x better in math and 2x better in reading. VIL’s tech-immersive, innovative curriculum goes with free devices—plus a two-year data plan—to every student and teacher, supported with teacher training and development.

Since 2012 we have committed a total of $400 million toward Verizon Innovative Learning schools. We have helped more than a million students get free tech education and we’re proud to commit to reaching 2 million more by 2021.

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