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The pandemic has shown the real possibilities of education technology: CEO

Tom Davidson, Founder & CEO EVERFI joins the On the Move panel to discuss the D.C.based education technology company that he started to deliver free digital learning to kids in underserved communities.

Video Transcript

JULIE HYMAN: We want to move on now from one of my old stomping grounds, Baltimore, to another, Washington DC. We are joined by Tom Davidson. He is founder and CEO of EverFi, and this is a company that provides free educational opportunities to kids, free digital learning, specifically. So Tom, I imagine you've been pretty busy, first of all, I would say. Thank you for joining us. Talk to us about what you are up to right now and how your business has changed over the course of the pandemic? Obviously, there's been a lot of focus not just on remote learning, but on lack of access by a lot of kids to the technology they need to be doing remote learning right now.

TOM DAVIDSON: Well, thanks for having me. It's a extraordinary time for families. It's an extraordinary time for all of us and teachers especially who are just trying to keep the wheels to the ground here and help kids reach what they can be. You know, it's I think one of the things that this pandemic is showing with regard to education, it's showing the real possibilities of education technology. It's obviously showing us that we've got a lot of work to do in terms of access, in terms of the provisioning of broadband by districts and making sure that kids are not left out of this opportunity and this experience, which is going to play out here for another at least six months in school districts.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Tom, I am curious, because there is the hurdle of Wi-Fi access and then actually having a device on which the child can learn. But once we've crossed that threshold, is it time to stop this summer break and just have year round schooling, especially since kids, whether they've come from disadvantaged communities, kids are going to need to catch up, and the only way to do that is going to have 12 month instruction, right?

TOM DAVIDSON: Well, the summer, you know, that's one of those things that, one of the things you learn in this is hyper local. These are just hyper local decisions that are getting made. I think one of the opportunities that technology gives you, you know, one of the big places that we focus, we built an amazing partnership with Major League Baseball on this to really go after summer learning loss and the reinforcement of words study and math skills over the course of the summer. For the first time, you're able to deploy this stuff at home on devices, on mobile devices and things, do those kind of booster shots that make it so kids don't wind up, you know, right now, a lot of these kids are coming back.

It takes a teacher 60 to 90 days just to get them back up to the point where they were when they left in May, but it's not a choice. It's not an either or anymore. It doesn't matter as much whether we're in for nine or 12 months, I think learning needs to continue over the course of this summer, and that's one of the things that we can do with technology we were never able to do before.

RICK NEWMAN: Hey, Tom. Rick Newman here. Joe Biden has a lot of ideas for education reform. If he were to get elected and put some of those into practice, you know, things like universal pre-K, he wants a lot more funding for public school districts. Any stand out proposals there, and how would that affect what you're doing?

TOM DAVIDSON: Well, you know, we certainly play on the end of these what, you know, I call him the kind of skeletal skills that are just so desperately missing from the school day. So one of the things that we like-- listen, we think that everybody needs to wake up and realize the importance of the actual school as a physical presence in kids' lives. It is a place where they are fed. It is often the place where they find safety broadband. It's a place where they're often treated by nurses and others. So it's not just a learning environment, it's a life environment.

But with regards to us, this is what I get excited about. A lot of people come to us, you know, so we power the education programs in almost 35,000, you know, public schools across the country, some of the toughest highest poverty areas in the country with the most opportunity, but here's the drill. What's been missing from the school day has been the core learning around what is insurance?

What is your financial life? What's a mortgage? How do taxes work? What's a W2? What's withholding?

These are areas that, you know, when someone gets trapped underneath a payday loan, which will exist for an often generations in their family, when they get trapped under debt, under $1.5 trillion of student debt, these are trajectory, often irrevocable decisions that are made, and we have the opportunity actually get that learning in those schools tomorrow. So what we've done is gone and gotten everyone from the NFL and Mass Mutual to UBS and LinkedIn and lots of individuals in between to license this software, this specific software about this missing learning layer, in schools today. It's actionable. It can happen tomorrow, and that's what we're all about.

JULIE HYMAN: Tom, it can happen tomorrow. I mean, but in a lot of cases, at least in this moment, to your point, kids aren't physically in school, some of them don't have access. So what do you think this period of time is going to do to kids learning? Where do you think is going to be the biggest risk setback for kids?

TOM DAVIDSON: This is a really-- there's no way to sugar coat it, this is an incredibly tough moment. We're starting to see the data come from districts coast to coast on just the impact of actual learning where kids are meeting expectations on math and basic reading skills. It's going to be a really tough moment. What this country is going to need more than anything, because I think people have the wrong impression that once we move past this pandemic that state budgets are going to kind of fatten again, and we're going to be fine. In fact, it's going to go the exact opposite way.

The biggest thing that I would tell you is this is the moment for the private sector. This is the moment where it's not trillions of dollars, it's hundreds of millions of dollars, in some cases, billions of dollars can make all the difference in the world to setup scaled, basically like scaled training programs and tutoring programs to get kids back up and really utilize counseling services. And one of the things that I want to make sure is not left out of this is we just launched a fascinating mental health initiative in schools in Washington DC. We did it with Children's Hospital. We just launched a big initiative which HPA and others to bring mental health learning and scale to kids at a moment where they need it the most. It's not perfect. It is not the hand-to-hand combat one to one thing that you would want for teachers, but it is an area where technology can be helpful. It won't be everything, but it can help us get back on our feet once we move past this.