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Hispanics, Broadband and the Digital Textbook Revolution

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Today, one in three entrants to the U.S. workforce is Hispanic, and by 2025 Hispanics will be one of every two new American workers. And so, the future of America's workforce will be increasingly Hispanic. But without significant change in college attainment rates, the United States will face a shortage of 23 million college-educated adults in the workforce in the next 15 years - a crippling blow to U.S. economic competitiveness. College attainment is even more important, because the jobs of the future, especially high-paying middle class jobs will increasingly be in the technology sector or industries that are technology-enabled. Therefore STEM-ready, digitally literate Hispanic college graduates are key to meeting our future workforce needs. To get there, digital technology must also be integrated into the education mainstream. We now have a five-year goal that may help make this happen.

The Obama administration's FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski and Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan recently announced the goal of having every US student using tablets and digital textbooks in school within five years. This coming transformation challenges the entire education system - from kindergarten to college - to identify policies and pedagogy to maximize this resource and align policy to increase education attainment.

A key challenge for the Latino community will be in overcoming the continuing digital divide to ensure that all students have digital tools and a broadband connection available to them in school and at home. Latinos lead the country in adopting mobile and wireless broadband -- and use it for business, entertainment and across their lives. But, Latinos significantly lag the rest of America in broadband access at home. This lag threatens to further harm Hispanic educational attainment as schools integrate technology. Some 45% of Latinos have a home broadband connection, compared with 65% of whites, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Lack of home broadband access when schools are actively moving toward a technology- based learning environment creates challenges to deep learning and engagement with the digital skills needed for the future -- let alone integration of broadband-enabled eBooks. Addressing the challenge will necessitate all stakeholders - content providers, who today serve a great number of Latinos via television and online; the digital ecosystem, made up of broadband and technology providers, and policy makers. The newly announced Connect 2 Compete program, and existing programs like Comcast's Internet Essentials program and AT&T's Aspire Initiative are central to closing the gap by reducing cost and getting training and broadband into the homes of those hardest to connect -- poor families, some at the economic margins, who think of broadband as nice to have, versus an educational necessity.

Simultaneously closing the achievement gap and the digital divide requires a truly global approach. We must get technology into homes of the poor, rural communities, disconnected minorities and others still lagging in broadband adoption -- and we must also align curriculum and retrain teachers already struggling to catch up with the goals of revised state standards, and new expectations for them in a 21st Century classroom. The very same big-picture education policy questions being pursued today in regard to assessment and data collection, and high-quality teaching must be applied to the implementation of school technology -- no easy task, and one which craves collaboration from both the mainstream education reform community and technologists. Technology will be a facilitator of quality education, if implemented smartly, and comprehensively.