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How do you fight child poverty in the 21st century? One classroom at a time

Culture | Posted on August 15, 2016 by Pete Morra

(Students’) success or failure in the public schools will determine the entire body of human capital and educational potential that the nation will possess in the future. Without improving the educational support that the nation provides its low income students – students with the largest needs and usually with the least support — the trends of the last decade will be prologue for a nation not at risk, but a nation in decline.” Southern Education Fund, “A New Majority Research Bulletin: Low Income Students Now a Majority in the Nation’s Public Schools,” 2015.

Today, more than 15 million American children (1-in-5) and one million Canadian children (1-in-6) are growing up poor. For these children, learning to use technology through a quality education is pivotal to breaking the cycle of poverty.

The barriers created by child poverty cut across home life, physical and mental health, education and career prospects. At-risk children typically experience delays in learning preparedness before they begin school and limited access to learning resources, mentors and support networks. To lift a child out of poverty requires a variety of interventions from infancy to adulthood, but we can point to the quality of development during the early years of childhood as a critical foundation for their entire life journey.

So what happens in the classroom matters. A lot.

Introducing young students to digital learning and technology in the classroom produces substantial improvements in their achievement, especially for at-risk students. [i]  According to Kwame Johnson, Executive Director of PowerMyLearning, Atlanta:

“Children living in poverty face significant academic barriers, so exposing them to technology and digital learning resources in school and in the home can be a game changer. Classroom technology fosters a love of learning, builds self-confidence, and develops the problem solving and collaboration skills critical to thriving in the 21st century. You can draw a correlation between a student’s academic success in Grade 4 and what they do later in life. If low-income students are allowed to struggle early on, their chance of graduating high school on time and finding a meaningful career decreases significantly. By engaging them through early experiences with digital learning, the skills they learn will carry on through their entire K-12 experience and help prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.”

While technology is ubiquitous across North America, access to technology is not universal. Underfunding of public schools limits access to learning resources, books and technology.  As a result, schools have come to rely on community and parent fundraising to bridge these funding gaps. This places schools in low-income neighborhoods at a particular disadvantage, since low-income families cannot contribute nearly as much as more affluent communities.

The study “Public System, Private Money” found that over three years, the top 20 primary schools in the Toronto District School Board generated 36 times more dollars through fundraising than the most marginalized 20 schools: $249,362 per school compared to $6,922 per school.[ii] An analysis of the U.S. education system produced by The Education Fund discovered that the highest poverty districts receive $1,200 less per student than the lowest poverty districts—for an elementary school of 500 students, this means a funding gap of $600,000 per year. [iii]

If the road to success is education, the fast lane is paved with 21st century learning. For every child to succeed academically, we need to remove the barriers to accessing technology that prevent children from moving out of poverty.

Fighting child poverty one classroom (and one grant) at a time

At Softchoice, we believe that every child deserves the same opportunity to benefit from high quality digital learning. Our POWER UP program provides technology grants of $10,000 to put students from low income communities on the path to future success.

Grants are available to public elementary and middle schools in Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Dallas, Atlanta, Toronto and Montreal with demonstrated need and a vision for how technology can unleash the potential of their students.

Apply now or nominate a school in need .

Application deadline is November 11, 2016.

Grant recipients will be announced December 1, 2016.

Softchoice is pleased to partner with Lenovo to deliver POWER UP. Softchoice’s share of the POWER UP grant funds were raised and donated by its employees through Softchoice Cares endeavors.

 
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Notes

[i]Using technology to support at-risk youth,” Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, 2014.
[ii]Public System, Private Money: Fees, Fundraising and Equity in the Toronto District School Board,” Social Planning Toronto, 2011.
[iii]  “Funding Gaps 2015: Too Many States Still Spend Less on Educating Students Who Need the Most,” The Education Trust, 2015.

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