Learning is no longer just done in the classroom or with a pen and paper at home. Connected classrooms were already a growing trend, and the last few months have only accelerated the broader recognition that connectivity, enabling technology and digital literacy are absolute necessities.

While digital connectivity has allowed learning to continue for many students – that is not the case for everyone. In the world of education, the Digital Divide is one of the greatest obstacles for students to learning and a barrier to opportunity.  At Ciena we aim to mobilize our core strengths – our people, our innovation leadership and our partnerships –  to enable greater connectivity and help bridge this divide.

I work with one of our large global networking providers and have seen firsthand the impact that a lack of broadband connectivity and access to tools, such as laptops, has on distance learning. A lack of access to high-speed broadband Internet and the high cost of digital learning devices means many students face very real and practical barriers when trying to work or study online. For instance, these challenges make supporting high-bandwidth applications for online video classrooms a challenge in our vulnerable, low-income communities.

The Digital Divide conversation takes on a heightened level of urgency in today’s landscape of pandemic-induced distance learning. Today, UNESCO reports that roughly 1.4 billion students globally are impacted by school closures due to COVID-19, shifting educational demands into homes where many families lack broadband connectivity, technology and computing devices. This puts student’s education at risk, amplifying the so-called homework gap. But it also has real downstream consequences in our 21st century digital workforce and future of work that has now arrived.

At the rate technology is advancing, imagine the long-term economic and social impacts of a population that lacks necessary digital skills. This takes me back to the motto I have with my team, One Team, One Mission. As a society, we should all be on the same Team when it comes to erasing the Digital Divide. Of course, we each have our individual goals, but what good is progress if most of our Team gets left behind?

What’s Being Done to Boost Digital Inclusion

The good news is steps are being taken industry-wide in telecom to erase the divide. In his recent Forbes article, Steve Alexander, Ciena’s CTO, highlighted how government programs like the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund are increasing access to broadband in rural areas across the country. These initiatives exemplify how decision makers are embodying our One Team, One Mission mantra.

The mantra is being echoed at the grassroots level as well. For example, Ciena recently partnered with Verizon Innovative Learning, Verizon’s education initiative targeting under-resourced Title 1 schools in the U.S. While these are just some of our recent efforts, they are not our first or our last to promote broader Digital Inclusion in the communities where we work and live.

Ciena has made a Digital Inclusion Commitment which aims to expand access to opportunities for underserved students in our communities. We will do it by engaging and mobilizing our global workforce, leveraging our innovation leadership, and collaborating with business partners, like Verizon, to enable greater digital connectivity. Through this new program we will find innovative solutions and fund programs focused on access, enabling technologies and digital skills to create a positive societal impact.

What Can You Do to Help Students in Your Community ?

Donation+to+the+Baltimore+Design+SchoolThe Digital Divide isn’t going to solve itself. Erasing the divide requires intention, empathy and effort. The good news is we all have the ability to make a contribution. Visit Verizon’s Innovation Learning program, a collaboration with Digital Promise, to find more resources and explore the latest research on erasing the Digital Divide in education.

At Ciena, we’re fortunate to be able to combine our technologies with the services of our partners to address the Digital Divide—but we’re just one, small piece of a much larger puzzle. I encourage every technology leader to take this opportunity to ask themselves, “What am I doing to promote digital equity and bridge the digital divide?”

We’re all blessed with the same ability to give great effort.” – Anonymous

Direct message me on LinkedIn, and let’s chat about it. And if you’d like to learn more about Ciena’s Digital Inclusion Commitment, check out the release on our partnership with Verizon Innovative Learning.