Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2023 National Black Child Development Institute’s annual conference in Charlotte, NC. We had rich and illuminating conversations with early learning researchers, policymakers, advocates and practitioners of all ages. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
As Senior National Education Administrator for T-Mobile for Education, Dr. Kiesha King helps oversee T-Mobile’s Project 10Million, a $10.7 billion effort to bridge the digital divide by providing access to devices to “ensure internet access is not a barrier to a child’s education.”
Chris Riback: Dr. King, thank you for coming by the studio.
Dr. Kiesha King: Yes, you’re welcome. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Chris Riback: Digital divide, it’s obviously a phrase that we all hear. We heard it a lot even more during COVID. Give a definition for it. What’s the context? How do you define it?
Dr. Kiesha King: It’s really looking at all the students across the country that lack internet access and access to technology so that they can do all of the wonderful things that they’re more affluent peers have access to do.
Chris Riback: In reading some of your materials, I interpreted it as really coming down to those two things, the devices and the access. Those are the two main inputs to the divide.
Dr. Kiesha King: It is. And when you see the direction that even our federal funding sources have gone with the emergency connectivity fund, if students don’t have the devices, they can’t access the resources. If they don’t have the connectivity outside of the traditional school day, they still lack the access. So giving them the connectivity, pairing that with the device, of course, the device that’s adequate for what they’re hoping to do.
Chris Riback: Yes.
Dr. Kiesha King: Right? Enough screen, real estate, a keyboard potentially, internet access that’s unlimited and high speed. Pairing all those things together gives students an opportunity to advance in a technologically required future.
Chris Riback: Required. Everything is digital.
Dr. Kiesha King: It is.
Chris Riback: It is. What is your T-Mobile affiliated role and what is Project 10Million?
Dr. Kiesha King: So for T-Mobile, I’m the Senior National Education Administrator, which means that I lead all of our education strategy for K12 and higher education across the country. It’s not by chance, though. I have been an educator, so I’m a forever teacher, principal. I was a director of online learning in a school district of almost 70,000 students and about 85, 90% free or reduced lunch. And so when you think about dealing with those type of disparities every single day, it’s the same type of mindset and passion that has to go into the work to bridge a digital divide for the same students and communities that are seeking to serve them.
Chris Riback: And what is Project 10Million?
Dr. Kiesha King: Project 10Million is a phenomenal commitment to bridge the digital divide. T-Mobile said-
Chris Riback: $10.7 billion.
Dr. Kiesha King: $10.7 billion commitment. And so it is geared towards helping eligible student households with a free hotspot and five years of connectivity, 100 gigabytes per year, high speed internet access so that they can access critical education resources and Google a random thought here and there.
Chris Riback: Anytime we need an answer, we go to Google.
Dr. Kiesha King: We do.
Chris Riback: What is the strategy and what are some of the tactics? You mentioned a couple of them. This has a real strategy behind it.
Dr. Kiesha King: Yes. A lot has changed since the pandemic. The pandemic put us in a situation where we had to be super reactionary, and education has always been a data-driven organization. It’s been a data-driven business. And so now we’re in a situation where we’re able to kind of sit back and go back to the drawing board and figure out what are our best next steps with regards to students, and we don’t have to be reactionary. We can actually figure it out together.
Chris Riback: What I also liked in reading about the program, and you correct me if I have this wrong, is you’re doing this work in the homes with the devices with that a hundred gigs of internet access, but I believe you’re also working with the educators, and I believe that that means as well, re-imagining the role of the curriculum with instruction and technology equity really working with the educators. Is that part of what you’re doing?
Dr. Kiesha King: Absolutely. And it’s something I did quite a bit in a school district. Anytime you’re trying to incorporate technology and connectivity, you want to make sure students know what to do with those devices. And so who best to do that than educators and the school districts that serve the kids, right? And so T-Mobile is here to partner with them and figure out how we can get it right and how they can get it right on behalf of their students.
Chris Riback: And this is active, I believe in some school districts already?
Dr. Kiesha King: It is. So a great example is Jefferson County Public Schools, we’re working very closely with-
Chris Riback: That’s in Kentucky.
Dr. Kiesha King: It is. Yes. We’re working very closely with our superintendent, Dr. Polio and their Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. Belcher and the two of them have put together a phenomenal longer term strategy to bridge the digital divide. So they not only are saying, Hey, we want connectivity for our kids, but we want the connectivity built into the device that we’re handing our students. So they have over 70,000 students today that have a Chromebook that’s SIM embedded, so that when they take that device anywhere, anywhere, whether they’re on the side of the soccer field or they’re waiting for mom to get off work, or they’re just sitting on a long commute, a long bus ride, or a long car ride, they have their device with the internet access built in.
Chris Riback: It’s like a mobile phone, but it’s a Chromebook.
Dr. Kiesha King: Exactly.
Chris Riback: And we all know that everything is up-to-date in Kansas City. Tell me what’s happening there?
Dr. Kiesha King: Yes, Kansas City is doing some amazing work. We’re working really closely there with their superintendent and chief academic officer, and they have decided to put an iPad in the hands of all of their students. So their students have a connected iPad and they’ve created an ecosystem to support student success across the school district.
Chris Riback: Wow. A lot going on.
Dr. Kiesha King: Yes.
Chris Riback: What’s next?
Dr. Kiesha King: Oh goodness. That’s a great question. Well, we’ve only connected 5.3 million students, so we got to get to 10 million. We got a long way to go. I think in addition to that though, this is just a great time to sit with school district leaders, whether it’s through an advisory council or some other type of integrated opportunity, just like NBCDI now.
Chris Riback: Yes.
Dr. Kiesha King: Right? This is a great time for us to come together and talk about what does the future of education look like. We want to be a part of that conversation. I know I do.
Chris Riback: Well, there’s a lot of work to be done, unfortunately. I wish there weren’t, but I’m glad that you’re on it. Dr. King-
Dr. Kiesha King: Thank you so much.
Chris Riback: … thank you for coming by the studio.
Dr. Kiesha King: Thank you. I’m excited to be a part of the work.