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The 1Million Project

When corporations decide to step up for education

by Charles Sosnik

According to the Pew Research Center, Seventy percent of America’s high school teachers assign homework that requires online connectivity, yet more than 5 million families with school-aged students do not have internet connectivity at home. That’s a problem. Many children go to a neighbor’s home or go to the public library or McDonalds. At least the committed ones who have transportation. But more still are forced to fall behind in school, and perhaps more importantly, fall behind in the acquisition of the skills they need to succeed in a post-school life.

We might ask how could these teachers, in good conscience, assign homework knowing that many students are incapable of completing the assignment? But we should also realize that in today’s world, it is virtually impossible to not include the Internet in learning.

Schools are at a loss to solve this problem. They are either unable or unwilling to devote the resources necessary to provide connectivity for the families who cannot afford it. Perhaps the entire model of school funding should be re-examined. However, that is an unlikely scenario in the short term. A more plausible model, and one that is being instituted right now, is a powerful assist from the corporate community.

When the new school year began, 180,000 low-income high school students, predominantly those on a free or reduced lunch program, were set to receive both a device and home connectivity as part of the 1Million Project. The Sprint Foundation, with support from Sprint, reported that the first year of the initiative, which began on August 15, would include more than 1,300 schools across 30 states, providing 180,000 students with free devices and wireless service for up to four years while in high school. During the life of the 5-year program, up to 1 million high school students who lack Internet access at home will benefit from the 1Million Project, placing them on an even playing field and eliminating the “Homework Gap.”

According to Doug Michelman, president of the Sprint 1Million Project, recipients get free Sprint service which allows for Internet connectivity. They also get three gigabytes of high-speed data, and then additional data at slightly lower speeds if needed. In addition, recipients are given a device (generally a tablet or phone). These devices are donated from Sprint’s device manufacturers.

“Sprint is uniquely positioned to help make a difference in these kids’ lives immediately and on a massive level, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure. “In less than a year, we’ve gone from conceiving and piloting the 1Million Project to implementing it in order to help hundreds of thousands of high school students across the country this school year.”

Each year, around 5,000,000 students begin high school. The cash cost to connect the unconnected students would be prohibitive, with some estimates as high as $100 Million. Currently, only a national wireless provider like Sprint has the resources to tackle the enormity of the problem. It is a prime example of the value of public/corporate partnerships, and a genuine credit to Sprint and the Sprint Foundation to have the wisdom and generosity to pull it off.

Many of the schools benefiting from the program have expressed concerns about students visiting inappropriate websites or becoming involved in harmful cyber activities. Schools concerned about questionable student use have the option to deactivate certain functionality. Schools can make the decision to eliminate texting and even calling functions, but in that case, the devices will still serve as hotspots.

Sprint is currently creating partnerships with content providers like The College Board and the Khan Academy. A partnership with Columbia University is set to provide information about the long-term impact of the program, tracking data on behavior and graduation rates.

One of the limiting factors of the 1Million Program is that students need to be in an area that has access to cell service. Some rural areas are particularly challenging. Sprint is currently partnering with the Shentel Network in Western Virginia, which has allowed them to help eight additional school districts. They are currently creating additional partnerships in rural areas in the Appalachian Mountains and other places.

Sprint also offers savings and special offers to educators, administrators and other education employees through the Sprint Works Program.  This is another example of Sprint’s commitment to education.

The Digital Divide is one of our nation’s greatest educational challenges. Corporate partnerships could be the answer we are looking for. I hope that Sprint serves as an example for the greater business community. Any business can step up to the plate and make a difference. I encourage every administrator to reach out locally. We can’t all do what Sprint can do. One million lives will be transformed by the 1Million project. But who knows? If you reach out, it might be one million and one.

Author Further Reading

This post includes mentions of a partner of MindRocket Media Group the parent company of edCircuit

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