Print This Article The Wichita Eagle Back to web version
Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Technology alone won’t solve education challenge

By Steve Hahn

AT&T is honored to help America’s children aspire to success.

One in four students – more than 1 million students a year – fails to graduate with their class. This is one of our nation’s most critical problems, particularly in an era when competition for jobs among people and, indeed, among nations, is becoming more intense.

Over the last four years, our Aspire program has worked with organizations across the country to help reverse this trend and reach the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020. AT&T Aspire has already impacted over 1 million students with $100 million invested since 2008.

Although the high school dropout rate has shown improvement, we can do more. In fact, we’re doubling down on American students and America’s future.

In our continued effort to address this critical issue, we are excited to launch a new phase of Aspire – a $250 million investment planned over five years that will further build on our existing initiative to help more students graduate from high school prepared for careers and college, and to ensure our nation is better prepared for global competition.

Here in Kansas, public officials and educators have placed a premium on education, and we are delighted to have had an opportunity to play a role in their success.

With our new phase of Aspire, we’ll take a “socially innovative” approach that goes beyond traditional philanthropy, engaging people and technology to create new and different solutions to social problems.

In today’s world, the mobile Internet is omnipresent. Students – of all ages – are adept at using this powerful resource, and it is critical that its potent power be harnessed for the cause of education. Our AT&T Foundry innovation centers will work with educators and other companies to find fresh and innovative approaches to improve education. The new Aspire will also leverage technology to connect with students in new and more effective ways. And you can expect to see a particular emphasis on gamification (using game techniques to teach students math, science and other applications), mobile applications, video and social media – the communications environments in which many of today’s students are most comfortable – to instill a new level of excitement into learning.

But technology alone will not solve the education challenge. It takes people too.

We plan to take our current Job Shadow program to a new level with the Aspire Mentoring Academy, a program that will provide more opportunities for our employees to work closely with students most at risk of dropping out to help them succeed in their classrooms and in life. Students and mentors will be matched on the basis of shared interests and will work together to explore and solve real-life, on-the-job business problems. They will also have the opportunity to participate in e-mentoring, specifically in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Some 100,000 students participated in the AT&T Job Shadow initiative with Junior Achievement to date, including nearly 1,000 in Kansas.

Local community organizations will be vital to the success of Aspire, and our plans call for providing financial support to those groups that deliver genuine results in helping students learn.

Thanks to the commitment of our employees and many Kansas organizations, our initial investment in high school success and college and career readiness has made a positive impact. The Kansas Aspire investments have amounted to over $400,000 since 2008. Included among the organizations that have benefited are Allen County Community College Endowment Association, Communities in Schools of Kansas, the Consolidated Unified School District of Erie, Fort Hays State University Foundation, the Hacemos Scholarship Foundation, the Kansas School for the Visually Handicapped Endowment Fund, the Butler Community Junior College Endowment Association, and Topeka public schools.

We’re excited to expand our investment in this great resource – our children’s education – with our new commitment.

There’s no doubt our investment in Aspire is an investment in America’s future, and, indeed, our own. At AT&T, we believe that people are the critical differentiators in our industry, especially given the lightning-fast pace of technological evolution. And Aspire helps to create a pipeline of diverse talent for all U.S. companies, including AT&T.

Our children are the key to our future. And joining together in the communities where our employees and customers live and work, we can make a difference in the lives of students and families and in our own communities and across the nation.

Steve Hahn is president of AT&T Kansas. For more information about the Aspire program or to apply for funding, go to www.att.com/education-news.

© 2012 Wichita Eagle and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved. http://www.kansas.com