The theme at this year’s Summer Davos in Tianjin, China, is Creating the Future Economy.

While extraordinary minds in business, government, academia and media meet for a mutual exchange of ideas, I can’t help but think of the leaders yet to come that will guide our future economy.

They are today’s students – some of whom are learning in traditional, industrial-era classrooms, and many of whom are learning in a completely different environment, more akin to how we do business today.

Advances in technology have fundamentally changed the ways in which students access learning materials; we are on the precipice of even greater transformation with the use of mobile technology.

Wireless technology is now the predominant way people access the internet globally. This puts us in a unique position to connect those previously unconnected –students in parts of the world where the expense and complexity of wired infrastructure made internet access unattainable.

In China, I have been privileged to work alongside the Chinese Government, Chinese NGOs and technology partners to address this challenge by implementing an initiative called the Connected Computer Classroom Program. 

The program uses 3G wireless broadband technologies to bridge the digital divide and to connect computers in classrooms throughout the country.  In total, this program has successfully touched the lives of nearly 100,000 students and teachers by providing 33 underserved schools with wireless internet access.

Beyond addressing infrastructure challenges, leveraging the mobility of devices connected on wireless networks can enrich teaching and learning in incredible new ways.

Mobile is not just about gadgets with bells and whistles, or the latest phone you or I carry around to manage our schedules, check our emails, and connect to one another.  It is also a platform that revolutionizes the way we educate the next generation, by providing students with unprecedented access to resources, advisors and peers – inside as well as outside the classroom, irrespective of distance.

The world is literally at a student’s fingertips, which means we can move beyond the industrial-era model of education – one teacher in a room lecturing to a lucky few – to a 21st century model that facilitates collaborative, real-time and personalized learning, anytime, anywhere.

Clearly there are great disparities in the quality of, and access to, education around the world. Mobile can’t solve all of these issues today, but it can bring educational resources to anyone who owns an internet-enabled mobile device, helping to promote digital equality.

Examples ranging from inner city areas in the United States to rural areas in Southeast Asia, demonstrate that students and teachers around the globe can benefit from the integration of mobile technology in and out of the classroom.

As we work towards a vision of a prosperous global economy, it is important also to imagine a world where all students can benefit from the wealth of information that the internet provides. This will allow us to equip the upcoming leaders of the Future Economy with the tools they need to make a real difference.

Author:  Shawn A. Covell, Vice President of Qualcomm Government Affairs and responsible for the oversight of Qualcomm’s education programs as part of the company’s Wireless Reach initiative.

Pictured: Student attends class at his elementary school in Skopje. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski