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Facilitating Learning During the Pandemic

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When COVID-19 hit and put us all in quarantine, we started heavily relying on personal or work-issued devices for conference calls, family reunions, movie nights, and happy hours. But the educational industry lacked the same level of technological readiness. The gap between schools that were ready to adopt technology and ones that were not was already wide enough. The pandemic stretched that gap wider than ever, revealing an existing problem that needs severe  remediation.

Imagine you are a U.S. high school student during the COVID-19 pandemic, and you are learning remotely. Let us say your school has loaned you a PC but you do not have Wi-Fi at home. So, you go to a nearby fast-food restaurant or coffee shop, but they will not let you sit inside because their in-house dining room is closed due to the pandemic. Instead, you sit outside—which, depending on the weather, may cause further issue. You open up your PC and remote into class with the bustling roadway nearby. You start working on a science lab with a classmate, but the software you are using for the assignment is lagging. Your classmate—whom you know is using their personal laptop for school—messages you, wondering why you are not working on the lab. You message back saying that the software is being slow, and you will do the best you can. But your inability to efficiently split the work with your partner results in a lower grade than you expected.

At the end of 2020, UNICEF [1] estimated that two-thirds of the world’s school-age children do not have internet connection at home. That is 1.3 billion children between the ages of three and 17, and 3.7 million are in the US alone.[2] Add this to the IT administrators trying to manage devices and teachers desperately trying to figure out how to teach entire curriculums remotely, and it is no wonder the whole educational system has been put in a tailspin. School districts have struggled since the pandemic started because of their lack of resources to enable remote learning. We have been using the same teaching methodologies and tools for decades, and COVID-19 has opened our eyes to why that is a problem. Access to quality, high-performing technology should not become the factor that divides us or limits the potential of future generations.

That is why at Intel we are trying to solve this problem by listening to, understanding, and empathizing with the teachers, parents, principals, and IT administrators who should not deal with these challenges alone. We want to tackle this problem with the paramount idea that technology should instead be an equalizer and enabler for students all over the world.
Remote education requires a right device experience

For years, the tech industry mainly focused on distributing devices, abiding by the 1:1 model—one device per student. Everyone thought that once a student obtained a device, that was it, right? Wrong. Simply giving a student a tablet does not automatically mean that the features and performance of that device are sufficient too. Of course, having a device is better than not having one at all, but it is also dependent on having the right device and how a student uses that device. Handing a student a device is one thing, but it is much more efficient to hand a student a device that has the features and performance power that meets that student's demands in regard to their age and learning ability. Obtaining a device is important, but not enough; it is equally important to adopt technology that will drive better learning outcomes, i.e., making sure students have the right device, not just a device. As a company that is fixed on nurturing learning outcomes, Intel is focusing not only on making sure kids have devices, but we are also focusing on how students can actively use and engage with their devices in school settings.

This past month, Intel conducted a study on the IT administrator and teacher perspective in regard to their technological needs during the pandemic.[3] Most decision makers talked about only needing devices that were inexpensive and easy to manage, but there were several mentions for other use cases that could lead to greater performance needs. For example, some decision makers mentioned needing devices that could monitor attendance or create coding applications. Some mentioned wanting device interaction with interactive whiteboards for students to easily visualize their learning. Others talked about wanting devices that could alleviate slow test taking due to lag or slow processing, which would result in lower test scores—which then could reduce funding.

Overall, it seemed like these desires for greater performance were considered “nice to have.” To me, it seems like the main focus is just getting the devices first, and then decision makers could focus on performance. But teachers and their students all deserve to have quality technology at their disposal and should not have to worry about getting the bare minimum. So perhaps the 1:1 model does take the right step, but we believe we should also think about how students engage with their devices. Intel is already taking that next step, providing the tools, resources, and technologies that schools need to succeed.
Intel Online Learning Initiative

Intel is committed to purpose-built progress, which is why we pledged USD 50 million in the Pandemic Response Technology Initiative (PRTI) to combat COVID-19. We believed it was crucial that we help accelerate access to technology for patient care, scientific research, and online learning. On top of that, Intel has also pledged to donate another USD 10 million to local communities for resources and coronavirus relief

Through the PRTI Online Learning Initiative, Intel has provided device connectivity assistance and other online virtual resources as well as donated hundreds of thousands of PCs worldwide. With the goal of closing the digital divide, Intel has been able to give so much support to communities in need of technological advancement.

By teaming up with other businesses to help combat this issue, we are able to really make a difference for students. Last year, we partnered with Microsoft and T-Mobile to support the city of Houston—where 20 percent of the city’s students live at or below the poverty line—and bring digital skills and training to local communities. Then, we were able to provide qualified students and their families with T-Mobile internet connectivity, empowering kids with a vital tool they needed to succeed in school.

So sure, putting devices in every kids’ hands is a solid first step, but Intel is thinking beyond that first step and aiming to close the global digital divide. We should be treating this as a multifaceted, evolving case that is more impactful than just handing kids a PC. This challenge is about giving students the right device, making sure they stay connected, as well as giving them engaging learning content—all at once.

We need every one of these factors to make sure our students succeed in school, which will give them a step up later in life. Intel’s most principal purposes is to enrich the lives of everyone on Earth, meaning that we are dedicated to addressing and improving performance and connectivity for every student, regardless of where, when, or how they prefer to learn.

[1]“Two thirds of the world's school-age children have no internet access at home, New UNICEF-ITU Report Says.” UNICEF, November 30, 2020.

[2]USAFacts. “4.4 million households with children don’t have consistent access to computers for online learning during the pandemic.” USAFacts. USAFacts, October 19, 2020.

[3]This research was done before the American Rescue Act (ARP), signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021. While this research was done before the ARP was signed, the key takeaways from the study are still accurate for school experiences in the US.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the guests and author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Intel Corporation.