Few could have anticipated the sudden shift from physical to virtual classrooms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online learning is changing the education industry in many ways, most notably, by exposing the unequal accessibility of broadband across income levels. Tom Naratil, Co-President UBS Global Wealth Management and President UBS Americas, and Tom Davidson, CEO of EVERFI, a social impact technology company providing educational resources at scale, discuss the potential of technology to be a great equalizer.
Davidson started EVERFI out of a desire to make financial education widely available. Its technology enables networks that engage students in the same ways that online gaming or videos do. Despite its growth from a start-up to one of Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies, Davidson was not expecting the recent shift to total online learning and the implications it has had for EVERFI and the wider education system. “School districts were moving into the expectation that they would need to move over to blended learning [a combination of online and traditional face-to-face education], and most of them have in one way or the other. The shift to fully online learning was something very, very few people expected to do.”
“It has put an incredible amount of stress on teachers, families and others. But what I think it’s going to do is accelerate very important conversations that need to happen.” One of the most important of these conversations revolves around equity in learning and access to education. “One of the things I get excited about with online education,” says Davidson, “is that it’s a tool. It’s a helpful way to get learning in the hands of a lot of kids at once.”
The EVERFI platform has the ability to pause or move forward based on the individual needs of each student, which Davidson notes is particularly important for children living with chronic trauma or in high-poverty areas. “Some have parents who read to them every night. Some are coming from very, very chronically traumatic situations at home, and the faster we realize that, the faster technology will be enabled to serve that concept, not the other way around.”
One way technology can address this challenge is through “flipping the classroom,” which moves lectures to an online platform and transfers activities that would normally be considered homework, into the classroom where students can work under the guidance of a teacher and their specific challenges can be addressed.
Naratil adds that none of this will be possible if the right infrastructure is not available to provide the highest quality education possible to all students. He says, “As the pandemic changes the way we think about and use virtual learning opportunities, we need to ask ourselves how technology can and should be used to equalize access to education. The nationwide classroom exodus has laid bare these gaps. We need to seize this pivotal moment to make sure that every student across America has access to the technology and tools they need to prepare for the future.”
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