During this year's TMT Predictions Schools Challenge Final, a variety of ideas were united by a common thread: that technology and the Internet are vital for education. As the winning team explained, education should not be seen as a luxury but as a necessity which can be provided globally through technology. The students are not alone in their thinking; the rhetoric among many of the tech giants such as Mozilla, Google and Facebook is that connectivity has become a vital resource in the 21st Century and is crucial for providing education worldwide.
Deloitte's annual Challenge involves working with sixth form students from Deloitte Access partner schools to encourage and support the development of innovative business ideas. This year, three schools took part in the competition's Grand Final, each setting out their ideas based on recent scientific and technological advances presented in Deloitte's TMT Predictions 2016. Our finalists responded to one of the following challenges:
- To create an idea for an app that exploits the immersive viewing capabilities offered by the latest Virtual Reality (VR) headsets
- To create an idea for a new game for mobile devices that has the primary purpose of contributing to secondary school education
- To create an innovative new business model that profits from the growing used smartphone market.
Each idea was judged on its ability to solve real world problems in an innovative way. Responses to these challenges included VR tours of universities, a mobile game app that can help teenagers better manage their finances and a creative idea to extract value from used smartphones. It was striking that, despite only one of the three challenges explicitly demanding a focus on education, all three finalists developed presentations identifying technology as the enabler of positive change and progression in this space.
Maria Fidelis School in Camden proposed the winning idea, to take the capabilities of second-hand smartphones and use them in a cost effective model, delivering an affordable education solution in developing countries. The students had done their homework and identified a real world problem affecting millions of people – according to research published by Unesco, one in five young people in developing countries lack basic reading and writing skills. According to this year's TMT Predictions 2016, an estimated 120 million used smartphones will be traded in or sold during 2016; such a scale makes the devices a perfect vehicle to deliver education. The students proposed preinstalling educational apps on to the second-hand devices before sending them to the countries that will benefit. Furthermore, to maximise reach, each handset will be used in combination with a cardboard-based projector so that only one device is needed per classroom. The judging panel were very impressed with the quality and presentation of the idea. To develop their idea, the judges encouraged the team to think about how they might deal with the lack of connectivity in developing countries which would be needed to access and update the apps. I'll look forward to finding out how their idea takes shape but for their work so far they, along with all the teams that participated, deserve a big congratulations.
How the market is responding
How can the challenge of connectivity be overcome to support education in developing countries? Leading the conversations in this space are Facebook and Google. Mark Zuckerberg, in his paper entitled "Is Connectivity a Human Right?", claims his objective is to connect the world, benefitting all through knowledge sharing. Part of Facebook's Internet.org initiative has been the mobile app "Free Basics", offering customers of partner telecoms networks free access to Facebook and other sites, providing information on education and health. Facebook seeks to connect rural areas with Wi-Fi through building solar-powered drones, which would allow access to sites unreachable by existing infrastructure. In a similar vein, Google has set up an initiative focusing on improving internet literacy for rural women in India, achieved through "Internet cycle carts". These bicycles are driven to local villages and equipped with Android smartphones which are used to teach women how to use Internet devices independently. This initiative works in parallel with Google's 'Project Loon', a network of balloons on the edge of space designed to connect people in remote and rural areas to the Internet.
It's not just the tech giants that are using the Internet to engage and connect people; Deloitte have been collaborating with Modern Muse, who closed the event, to inspire young women to interact with each other and understand the opportunities available to them in their future careers. The ideas we were presented with by the students reinforced the idea that initiatives such as that with Modern Muse should be a key focus for Deloitte and their clients in the future, each underpinned by a universal objective: to harness technology in an innovative way to solve real world problems.
Disclaimer: WiThink is written from a personal perspective. All views and opinions are those of the author.
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