03/15/2013 11:55 am ET Updated May 15, 2013

Technology Presents New Educational Opportunities for Latino Youth

Two recent events underscored the importance of utilizing digital tools to inspire students and demonstrated the intersection between technology and education.

On March 5th AT&T's Hispanic/Latino Association, HACEMOS, held the 15th annual High Tech Day in 31 cities across the country. The event encourages students at risk of dropping out of high school to consider careers in science and technology, fields where Latinos and other minorities traditionally have been underrepresented. This year about 1,800 teens from 70 different schools participated in hands-on technical activities and interactive workshops designed to help students succeed in our technology-rich future. I volunteered at the Washington, D.C. event and witnessed firsthand the excitement on students' faces as they learned about the inner workings of smartphones and participated in a live videoconference with students from across the nation. I've never heard the word "cool" so many times in one morning.

The same week the Pew Internet and American Life Project released a report that revealed how teachers are using technology in their classrooms to enhance learning and engage students. The survey asked middle and high school teachers about the impact of the Internet and digital tools in their classrooms. Ninety-two percent of teachers surveyed reported that the Internet has had a "major impact" on their ability to access content as well as teaching materials and resources. Additionally, 57 percent of teachers said that the Internet has had a "major impact" on enabling their interaction with students. Increasingly, digital tools such as smartphones, tablets, and e-book readers are used in classrooms and assignments, and 44 percent of surveyed teachers said that technology is actually narrowing the gap between the most and least academically successful students.

Imagine the impact of even more hands-on learning opportunities and technology-assisted lessons, in particular for Latino and other minority students -- especially those who may be at risk of dropping out. Almost every day could be a High Tech Day, where technology helps teachers to personalize lessons and track progress. Further, these educational tools are proven to excite students about learning and to encourage them to pursue futures in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This is of grave importance for minority communities. In fact, Black and Latino workers account for approximately a quarter of the U.S. workforce but fill only 12 percent of the country's science and technology jobs.

Despite the proven power of educational technology, many schools struggle to get access to reliable high-speed broadband service to support these tools. To ensure that more of our students enjoy the benefits of digital learning, we must ensure our telecommunications networks can keep up with technological advances (and consumer expectations) by transitioning to high-speed all-IP (Internet Protocol) broadband networks that support faster speeds and greater data capacity.

Accelerating the transition to cost-effective all-IP networks will require collaboration between our government and the private sector, with policymakers ensuring that the right rules are in place that are fair and balanced for consumers and communications providers. This transition will encourage the private sector to continue its investment in building the world's leading network infrastructure to the benefit of consumers, entrepreneurs, and students.

It is critical to recognize the impact of the IP transition isn't limited to the technology industry. This is a critical time in education; disparities are on the rise for communities of color and technology is emerging as a powerful tool to empower students and teachers to narrow the achievement gap. I hope that government and industry will size this opportunity to work together to enable future innovations and lay the foundation for improved educational opportunities for all students.