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How Technology Can Close the Education Gap

Claure is the CEO of Sprint

Business has the capability to offer free connectivity to those who need it most. Here’s why it must

Never before have young people faced a world with such great possibility. But there’s a stifling barrier for far too many—a lack of digital connectivity. Working together, I believe we can kick down that barrier.

The internet and a connected device no longer are luxuries or even nice-to-haves. Connectivity is fundamental to living life today—for earning an education, finding a job and being a civic-minded citizen.

Today, however, we are failing millions of schoolchildren who lack access.

It hurts when you see it up close. Recently, I sat down with a group of young people at a Kansas City, Mo., high school where all the students come from economically disadvantaged homes.

These kids are smart, motivated and determined. They have big dreams, and they are working hard to achieve them. One told me he waits for his aunt to get off work—often not until 11 p.m.—so he can use the internet at her home. The school’s principal also talked about finding a girl sitting on the school steps at 6 a.m. because she needed Wi-Fi to finish her homework. I met another young woman who loses points on an advanced placement English assignment due every Sunday night because she doesn’t have internet access and can’t turn the paper in until she returns to school on Monday morning.

I left inspired. I also left heartbroken.

America’s connectivity barrier is a big problem that can be solved. But it will take families, schools, government and businesses all working together. At Sprint, we believe we can play a central role. We’re taking action with The 1 Million Project, a company initiative that will provide free devices and wireless service to 1 million low-income high school students.

We have our work cut out for us. Some five million families with school-aged children in the United States lack broadband internet access at home. At least seven out of 10 teachers today are giving assignments requiring web access. This creates a “homework” gap that leaves millions of students struggling and at an unfair disadvantage because they lack the digital connections many of us take for granted.

I admire the grit and determination of students who must overcome obstacles to get internet access when they need it, but they shouldn’t have to struggle. It’s wrong. These students are doing their part. So should we.

When we see deepening divisions around the U.S., let’s huddle together on this one and fix it. Nothing could be more important than ensuring our youth—our workers, our leaders and our citizens of the future—have access to ideas, information and a fundamental way to communicate. Let’s create a level playing field for students to be able to compete for the world’s possibilities and for our country to deliver on the full promise of our age of connectivity.

Read more articles from the TIME/Fortune Global Forum at the Vatican on the role of business in solving the world’s greatest problems.

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