Essay submitted by:
Board Member (2006-2017; Chair 2013-2015), The Winnipeg Foundation
Writer and Consultant
“Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.”
The quip, despite the dubiousness of its apocryphal attribution to Einstein, retains some relative gravity. There’s a truth to it that rings beyond the balance sheet and into the quotidian – situations can snowball (take $100 million US at 7.89 per cent APR for example), and they can spiral (a sinking boat that sinks faster the further it has already sunk). For better and for worse, systems often seem to work this way.
Not dissimilarly, positive early experiences in education successively increase the likelihood of positive academic experiences later in life. Adjustments to this sort of self-perpetuating dynamic effect significant change with maximal efficiency.
A city’s challenges are ultimately those of the people who compose it – a deep commonality that means our communities are united in shared humanity, and the concordant need to address a number of nearly universal problems.
Among the most glaring of these is a vast and growing inequality – in access to resources and opportunities, and, as a consequence, in life outcomes. This is particularly pernicious in the case of education, where a small nudge in one direction can be the difference between the fixing of a foundational cornerstone and the first collapse in a cascade of dominos. The egregious reality here is that future inequalities are not only perpetuated but exacerbated by present inequalities.
According to a 2020 report published by the CRTC, as many as 63 per cent of First Nations reservations in Manitoba lack the broadband internet connections necessary for full participation in educational programming, with 33.4 per cent lacking broadband internet access entirely. Availability is only marginally greater in many of the province’s rural communities. We have heard it said that this statistic is sufficiently stark so as to engender disbelief and thus deflect the caring attention it calls for.
With its expansive geography and sparsely scattered population, this state of affairs was extremely problematic for Manitoba prior to the onset of COVID-19 and related restrictions; in the wake of the pandemic, with many schools in remote locations necessarily closed to in-person teaching, the situation is more urgent.
While problems of this scale can be daunting, we can look to other communities as well as our own for insight; for strategies to create real return on the investment of philanthropic energy; for ways to address big problems incrementally, efficiently, and ever-more effectively.
We believe onebillion’s onetab to be one such solution – as did the $15 million US Global Learning XPRIZE in 2019. For a fraction of the cost of an undergraduate textbook, the onetab is a durable 8” touchscreen device that delivers over 4,000 hours of game-ified, engaging education in early-years literacy and numeracy.
Onetab’s courseware has been repeatedly proven to produce a dramatic improvement in understanding and achievement with as little as 15 minutes of use per day. A trial conducted at David Livingston Community School by Dr. Linda DeRiviere (University of Winnipeg) replicated the extraordinary results already reported in Europe, Africa, and North and South America. These devices work. They’re kid tested and two-thumbs-up approved. They require no internet connection, and are inexpensive (~$55 US) in absolute terms – let alone relative to their impact.
With the help of Frontier School Division, Waywayseecappo, and the First Nations’ Child and Family Advocate Office, thousands of onetabs are on their way to – or already in – the hands of thousands of young Manitobans. Every child that stands to benefit from access to these devices should have access. We believe this to be as fiscally and logistically feasible as it is socially and morally imperative.
Sometimes, a relatively minor change – a certain amount of energy in a certain place at a certain time – can have an outsize impact on an otherwise overwhelming set of challenges. We hope to see positive changes compound, with interest.
Susan Millican is a retired broadcast executive with more than 30 years of experience. As Vice President of WTN (now W network), she helped bring stories created by and for women to an international market. As Chief Executive Officer of National Screen Institute, she championed Indigenous broadcast talent by creating the New Voices, Aboriginal Stories, and NSI Storytellers programs.
She is past Chair of The Winnipeg Foundation and the Inspirit Foundation and has served as a Director of Rossbrook House and United Way Winnipeg, amongst others. She is currently a Director of the Bruce Oake Recovery Center and Nature United, and Chair of the Chipman Family Foundation.
Voted birthday party entertainer of the year by Winnipeg Parent Magazine at the turn of the millennium, Timothy Millican has since administered the UK’s first direct-to mobile digital broadcast network; consulted for the Bahamian Telecommunications Company; and developed self-contained aquaponic farming systems for deployment in Toronto. He currently resides in Winnipeg.