For parents, the return to school can be a wonderful time of the year. After having their children home all summer, the back-to-school season represents a return to calmness as days will be filled with school, activities, and much more. Leading up to the first day of school, parents go through the checklist of what children will need for the coming year. However, it’s often that many things can easily fall off these checklists as the education system is evolving and technology continues to develop.

● Notebooks… check.

● Pens and pencils… check.

● Highlighters… check.

● Internet access… excuse me?

Yes, internet access. While many of us take connectivity for granted, connectivity is just as essential for a child’s success as traditional supplies and instructional resources. With over 90 percent of the US population with internet access, according to one report, we often forget that across some regions of the world there’s very low connectivity rates, leaving many children locked out of digital learning. Unconnected children remain at a substantial disadvantage to connected children in terms of access to instructional resources, academic outcomes and prospects for education, careers, and financial opportunities later in life.

Having worked alongside the Los Angeles Unified School District as a technology partner for the past two years, more than 160,000 Snapdragon 7c-powered Chromebooks with built-in LTE connectivity have been deployed to children to offer them an incredible, always-connected computing experience. These Snapdragon-powered Chromebooks also delivered multi-day battery life, which is twice the battery life of a typical entry-level PC, and 20 percent faster system performance than competitive platforms, providing these children with thinner, lighter, and quieter Chromebooks.

While most school systems across the United States and globally still rely solely on Wi-Fi-powered devices – assuming or hoping broadband is available, Los Angeles is among the few leaders who have made significant investments in cellular-powered student devices. School officials recognized that, even across an urban region like Los Angeles, 1-in-5 households remain unconnected or under-connected, according to a 2021 study by the University of Southern California. Further, the same study showed 71 percent of English-speaking parents reported having home internet access, while less than 40 percent of Spanish-speaking parents reported similar connectivity.

After more than a year of students having LTE Chromebooks, we wanted to understand its impact on children and their families. The national educational nonprofit Project Tomorrow recently completed a survey of more than 3,000 parents across LAUSD to understand their views about technology and connectivity as it relates to homework, extended learning and communication between school and home. Conducted in May 2023, the online surveys, instructions, and videos were provided in both English and Spanish (as 25 percent of their graded enrollment students are identified as English Language Learners).

The findings show that not only are students using the technology for learning activities, but parents overwhelmingly support the district’s ongoing efforts to provide students with devices and connectivity.

Some of the key observations from the parent responses:

● 43 percent of parents identified that their child has now received a device with built-in cellular data access (versus Wi-Fi-only or hotspots).

● On average, 4 out of 5 parents say their child(ren) use their district-issued devices a minimum of a few times per week for schoolwork.

● Among Spanish-speaking parents, 85 percent said the internet access provided by the school system has had a “big impact on their child’s learning capabilities.”

● If children were not provided devices with internet access:

● Finally, 94 percent of all parents surveyed said the district “should continue to provide students with digital learning devices that have built-in Internet access,” with 78 percent of parents saying these programs should “absolutely” continue.

“Computer work is now required as part of daily homework assignments,” wrote a parent of an elementary school student in their survey comments. “So, it is a non-negotiable for students to have access to a device.”

“Technology is a key factor in education. It’s an accelerator and an equalizer,” said LAUSD CIO Soheil Katal in a recent interview. “Just the same way that you cannot keep the schools open without proper resources such as electricity, lights, water, and food for students, technology has become one of those factors. We consider technology a necessity for education.”

If we look at this from purely a numbers perspective, we can see the potential to impact teaching and learning brought about by the LAUSD initiative. If each of the 160,000 devices provided to LAUSD students was used for 2 hours per week outside of school, that equates to one school system delivering 12.8 million hours of learning time after school hours.

Los Angeles is just one of the many districts that have seen this positive impact, but there’s many others that would benefit with the same results. Bridging the home-school connection with the right technology, relevant content, passionate educators, and connectivity are the building blocks for success in any school system. We at Qualcomm Technologies, are very honored these efforts are supporting students' learning in Los Angeles and are committed to connecting more students to learning across the globe.

About the author

Elliot Levine is Qualcomm’s Director of Worldwide Education.