How tech is improving children’s prospects
by Martin Burvill, Group President at Verizon Business Markets
Twitter | @burvill_martin
Think back 10 years. If I’d told you then that by 2017 most video content would be watched on a small screen that people carried in their pocket, you’d never have believed me. But it’s true. What if I’d said that many of us would have a little box in our houses that we talked to and it answered our questions, could turn our heating and household devices on and off, and could DJ your music library? You might have actually thought that was more likely, after all it’s the sort of thing that science fiction has been promising us for decades. You might have been less likely to believe that the box would cost less than a pair of brand jeans.
Technology has vastly changed the way we do everything. It’s making life easier in ways that we could never have imagined. I’ve always thought that futurologist sounded like an amazing job, spending your time imagining what might come next. Working at Verizon I get to rub shoulders with many of the people that are building the next generation of networks and making the next wave of technology possible. I recently visited the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for an event and watching the children there made me think about how all this new technology will affect their lives.
From education to learning
Whether you’re from iPod generation, or like me the Walkman one, a lot has changed in the classroom since you went to school. It’s vital that schools keep up to date with technology as everything is changing rapidly and kids need to be prepared for that world when they graduate.
Back when I was in school I don’t think that the job of data scientist existed—I know that social media specialists didn’t. Most of the children entering pre-school this year probably won’t enter the workforce until the mid-2030s. How can we prepare them for jobs that we don’t even know about yet? We need to teach them problem solving skills and encourage and empower them to innovate. And technology has a huge role to play in that.
I wonder what today’s kids would make of it if their teachers pulled out an overhead projector in class? It was a default in my childhood, but would probably look like an ancient relic to them. And the next generation of kids will probably think the same about tablets and 2D video calls. Virtual reality is already starting to appear in the classroom, and that’s opening up incredible new ways to learn.
But that’s not all, technology is also improving access to education. There are apps for just about everything and an amazing range of online learning resources. You can now take an MIT course whether you live in Cambridge, UK or Cambridge, Australia. Billions of people now have the opportunity to try new things and learn new skills: from basket weaving to advanced math. This is helping children find what Sir Ken Robinson calls their “element”—the thing that they love and are great at—and achieve their full potential.
From health to wellbeing
My reason for attending the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh event was to donate two more VGos on behalf of Verizon. These are remote-presence remote-controlled robots with cameras, microphones and video screens connected over the Verizon network. They enable the children who are patients there to attend classes or visit places virtually, while physically in the hospital or house-bound. The feedback on our previous donation was that this can make a world of difference for children with serious health conditions. It can help them to stay connected to their friends, family, classmates and others, which is great for their development and their self-confidence.
Technology can also help kids with chronic conditions. Children with diabetes can now have an insulin pump fitted that tracks their sugar level automatically, and warns them and their parents if it reaches a defined threshold. There are also intelligent teddy bears that can teach children how to manage this and other long term conditions. This can help children lead a more normal life and achieve more.
Of course, it’s not just about when things go wrong. There are also many ways that technology can benefit everyday wellbeing, including tracking fitness and monitoring vital statistics like heart rate and blood pressure. There’s even an artificial intelligence app that can help detect when a child is stressed and notify their parents that they need attention.
Equal education opportunities
There are over 4 million jobs in science and tech and that number is growing. But our youth needs access to education and resources to develop the skills needed to get these jobs and reach their potential. We need to make education, particularly in STEM subjects, better and more readily available to children regardless of their background or physical abilities.
While plenty of excellent online learning tools already exist — many of which are free, like Khan Academy — we need to do more to help give children access to them. Because how can a child take a free online course to improve their math skills if they don’t have a computer or a network connection?
At Verizon, we’re doing our part to give more children from all backgrounds, abilities, and physical abilities access to what they need to succeed. The Verizon Innovative Learning program provides free technology and immersive, hands-on learning experiences to students and teachers from disadvantaged communities across the US. This is giving children who otherwise wouldn’t have access a better chance of getting the challenging, well-paid jobs of tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can achieve: from amazing medical advances to visiting another planet, even the sky isn’t a limit.