Society is becoming more and more connected yet, according the Clinton Foundation, 100 million children globally don't attend school and another 100 million don't have trained teachers or any learning material.
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg told the 80 participants at the Networked Society Forum (NEST) in Hong Kong yesterday that it's time to close the education gap.
The forum brought together business leaders and government officials to discuss how ICT can be used to shape the future of education and learning globally. The event, organized by Ericsson, drew stakeholders from the ICT industry, governments, NGOs and academia, with discussions focusing on access for all and redefining education given the influence of 21st-century technology.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, believes we're on the verge of a revolution in education, as technology empowers education in innovative and powerful ways. "First, it can significantly lower the cost of providing education and allow curriculum to be brought into the most remote areas.
"Second, you make information available to the whole society in ways that weren't possible even a few years ago. And thirdly, and very important, students are going to be working together in different parts of the world in ways that were also unimaginable not long ago."
Vestberg told the media yesterday that one accomplishment of the initiative was to break down some of the barriers between the private- and public-sector, and academia so they can work together better.
He said that the first step - to raise awareness and start the conversation - was largely met, with the CEO committing to three promises. The first is to work toward defining specific metrics for measuring the impact of ICT on education, much like the commonly cited link between increased broadband penetration and higher GDP growth.
Vestberg said the company will start to develop the methods to clearly demonstrate the impact, with support from Professor Sachs.
The second step is for five of Ericsson's ten regional heads (who participated in the event) to bring the forum theme to their regions and facilitate the discussion locally. His third commitment was to be an ambassador to expand the reach of the public-private conversation during his regular contact with governments, regulators and service providers, and he asked the other participants to do the same.
Vestberg also noted that it's important for the company and its service provider customers to understand how networks will be used in the future so it knows where to invest in R&D and how to cater networks for future demand, and NEST has given insight into that.
Mats Olsson, head of Ericsson's China's operations, pointed out it's not just about bringing connectivity to traditional schools. "It's a very complicated issue involving numerous stakeholders. Education and learning have to be transformed, and the teacher's role has to be transformed."
The educational divide, he said, is much larger than he could have ever imagined before coming here and he said that within three months he would launch at least one major initiative in the greater China region to address that gap.
Sachs said that in the richest countries, like the US, the cost of education is "completely out of sight and I think this technology will bring it down radically, even by an order of magnitude."