Closing the digital divide in K-12 education: A call to action

a small girl with a laptop

For millions of students around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about a seismic shift in the way they study, socialize and receive a formal education. In fact, we know that more than 1.6 billion students globally have experienced a disruption to the traditional learning experience. Unfortunately, we also know that the impact of this disruption will be borne disproportionately by the world’s most vulnerable learners.

During this year’s Microsoft Ignite conference, I mentioned that we would be looking at open data to solve challenges related to broadband access and education. Today, I’m happy to announce the launch of our Education Open Data Challenge, in partnership with the Open Data Institute and with support from BroadbandNow, to help generate solutions to close the digital divide in K-12 education (ages 5-18).

To help explain how the Education Open Data Challenge will work and who is eligible to participate, I’d like to answer a few key questions:

What is the Education Open Data Challenge?

The Education Open Data Challenge is an opportunity for teams to evaluate the current state of the global digital divide in K-12 education and suggest innovative solutions to close that divide. Participating teams will be asked to identify gaps in digital infrastructure that affect the delivery of education services online, pinpoint potential impacts on learning outcomes, and suggest innovative and realistic solutions to address these gaps in a cost-efficient way.

Who can participate?

The challenge is open to teams and individuals based anywhere in the world, and we encourage those interested in data analysis, education and closing the digital divide to learn more here.

Are there parameters around the solutions that teams will work on?

The solutions that each team comes up with should focus on:

  • The steps governments, education providers, businesses or society can take to help students gain equal access to education in areas affected by a lack of digital infrastructure
  • How education system leaders can most effectively improve digital access to enable equal learning for all students
  • How to develop the skills needed to make online learning tools and platforms inclusive and effective to students from disadvantaged communities

Are there prizes?

Yes! The winning team will be invited to elect a nonprofit organization of their choice to receive a £50,000 ($66,000) award, with the runners-up electing nonprofit organizations of their choice to receive £30,000 and £20,000 awards.

What is the deadline for registration, and when will we know who the winners are?

Individuals can pre-register starting today and the challenge will open on December 10, 2020. Proposals are due by January 31, 2021. Winning teams will be announced on May 1, 2021. More information about the timeline and upcoming activities can be found here.

More than ever, reliance on access to broadband has the potential to determine whether students thrive or struggle in their educational journeys. If we want to level the playing field so all students have access to the technology and connectivity they need to be successful, we need to work together and collaborate around data that has the potential to unlock truly promising solutions. I look forward to sharing updates on the challenge and its participants in the weeks and months ahead.

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